Thermal Cameras Scanning for Virus Signs at Hawaii Airports

August 26, 2020

HONOLULU — All Hawaii airports receiving flights from outside the state are now operating thermal cameras to screen travelers for symptoms of the coronavirus.

Travelers are subject to body temperature screening by the thermal cameras as part of the state’s effort to prevent passengers from bringing COVID-19 to Hawaii, Hawaii Public Radio reported Monday.

The scans of heat signatures in passengers departing transpacific flights determine if they have fevers.

Tim Sakahara, a state Department of Transportation spokesman, said the system monitored by Hawaii National Guard personnel notes temperatures greater than 100.4 Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) and travelers with that temperature or higher are flagged for additional health evaluations.

The system was subsidized through Hawaii’s share of federal coronavirus recovery funds.

The state signed a 10-year contract with Japanese tech company NEC Corporation to install and maintain the cameras at airports in Honolulu, Lihue, Kahului, Kailua-Kona, and Hilo.

National Guard members previously conducted fever checks using handheld thermometers and they were prepared to use them to scan small children or people in wheelchairs.

The new camera system is far more efficient than the handheld devices, NEC Program Manager Bill Carleton said.

“Instead of taking half an hour or 45 minutes to offload 200 passengers on a flight, now they’re doing it inside of 10 or 12 minutes,” Carleton said.

The system is expected to add facial recognition cameras in December, which will snap passenger photos when the thermal cameras detect fevers.

The proposal has put civil rights watchdogs on alert.

“We have concerns about the constitutionality about the technology, particularly in Hawaii where there is a constitutional right to privacy,” Matello Caballero of the ACLU of Hawaii said.

The state is taking precautions to protect flyers’ privacy, including deleting the photos after 30 minutes, Sakahara said.

“The picture itself will not identify that person,” Sakahara said. “It won’t know their name, won’t know their address, certainly not something like their Social Security number.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some _ especially older adults and people with existing health problems _ it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

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