In rush to adopt screen­ing

Em­ploy­ers hop­ing to use tech­nol­ogy to make things safer

Orlando Sentinel - - Business - By Natasha Singer

Bob Grewal re­cently be­gan test­ing a new health-screen­ing setup for work­ers at a Sub­way restau­rant he owns in Los An­ge­les near the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

When he stepped in­side the em­ployee food prep area, a fever-de­tec­tion and fa­cial recog­ni­tion cam­era ser­vice, PopID, quickly iden­ti­fied him by name and gauged his tem­per­a­ture. Then a small tablet screen un­der­neath the cam­era posted a mes­sage that cleared him to en­ter.

“Thank you Bob, you have a healthy Temp. of 98.06,” the screen said. “PopID aims to cre­ate a safe en­vi­ron­ment and stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Grewal is one of many busi­ness lead­ers rac­ing to de­ploy new em­ployee health­track­ing tech­nolo­gies in an ef­fort to re­open the econ­omy and make it safer for tens of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans to re­turn to their jobs in fac­to­ries, offices and stores. Some em­ploy­ers are re­quir­ing work­ers to fill out virus-screen­ing ques­tion­naires or ask­ing them to try out so­cial-dis­tanc­ing wrist­bands that vi­brate if they get too close to each other. Some even hope to soon is­sue dig­i­tal “im­mu­nity” badges to em­ploy­ees who have de­vel­oped coro­n­avirus an­ti­bod­ies, mark­ing them as safe to re­turn to work.

But as in­ten­si­fied work­place sur­veil­lance be­comes the new nor­mal, it comes with a hitch: The tech­nol­ogy may not do much to keep peo­ple safer.

Pub­lic health ex­perts and bioethi­cists said it was im­por­tant for em­ploy­ers to find ways to pro­tect their work­ers dur­ing the pan­demic.

But they cau­tioned there was lit­tle ev­i­dence to sug­gest that the new tools could ac­cu­rately de­ter­mine em­ploy­ees’ health sta­tus or con­tain virus out­breaks, even as they en­abled com­pa­nies to amass pri­vate health de­tails on their work­ers.

Over the past month, com­pa­nies have started mar­ket­ing a slew of em­ploy­ee­track­ing tools to com­bat the virus.

PwC, the fi­nan­cial ser­vices firm, has de­vel­oped a con­tact-trac­ing app to help em­ploy­ers “pro­vide a lower-risk work­place for em­ploy­ees.” It will au­to­mat­i­cally log prox­im­ity be­tween em­ploy­ees and can be used to help iden­tify peo­ple who may have been ex­posed to the virus at work.

Sales­force, the gi­ant soft­ware com­pany, is of­fer­ing a new tool,, to help em­ploy­ers “safely re­open.” Among other things, it will en­able com­pa­nies to cre­ate on­line em­ployee health sur­veys and map the work­place locations vis­ited by em­ploy­ees with coro­n­avirus in­fec­tions.

Clear, a se­cu­rity com­pany that uses bio­met­ric tech­nol­ogy to ver­ify peo­ple’s iden­ti­ties at air­ports and else­where, plans this week to start mar­ket­ing a health­screen­ing ser­vice that can be used to vet and clear em­ploy­ees to en­ter work­places. The ser­vice will take em­ploy­ees’ tem­per­a­tures with a ther­mal cam­era, as well as ver­ify the re­sults of their med­i­cal tests for the virus, shar­ing the re­sults with em­ploy­ers as color-coded scores like green or red.

Yet many of the tools — in­clud­ing cer­tain in­frared ther­mome­ters and an­ti­body tests that would be needed for em­ployee “im­mu­nity” cer­tifi­cates — can be wildly in­ac­cu­rate. Pub­lic health ex­perts said the tools could cre­ate a false sense of se­cu­rity, lead­ing work­ers to spread the virus in­ad­ver­tently.

Fever-screen­ing de­vices, for ex­am­ple, could miss many of the up to one-quar­ter or more peo­ple in­fected with the virus who do not ex­hibit symptoms. Or they could in­ad­ver­tently ex­pose em­ploy­ees who are run­ning higher tem­per­a­tures be­cause they are un­der stress or have other health con­di­tions, is­sues the work­ers may have pre­ferred to keep pri­vate.


A worker at a Los An­ge­les Sub­way has a tem­per­a­ture taken by PopID, a fever-de­tec­tion and fa­cial recog­ni­tion cam­era ser­vice.

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