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Poynter warns buyer beware on thermal scanners

The Poynter Institute, a non-profit leader in journalism education that fact checks news and social media claims, warns that some thermal scanners may not perform as manufacturers claim, may be overpriced and may not have been tested by the Food and Drug Administration as they would normally be in non-pandemic times.

Click here for FDA guidance on Telethermographic Systems during COVID-19

In its daily COVID-19 newsletter, Poynter gathered a round-up of issues from multiple media sources and agencies. Concerns include: Can thermal imagers accurately read temps from multiple people at once? How do users account for core body temperatures naturally ranging? Are the imagers measuring surface temps or core temps? News organizations also found concerns about the pre-testing and cost of the units. A Washington Post story found that Gwinnett County in Georgia paid $30,000 per scanner, which was twice as much as an industry leader charges for a similar product.

From Poytner’s newsletter (scroll down to see the item):

“At just the time there is a global gold rush to sell thermo-scanners, the Food and Drug Administration said it would not require the typical 130-day ‘pre-market’ clearance, a period of time the FDA uses to determine whether a device is what it says it is and does what it claims to do. The FDA said in a pandemic, the need for testing equipment is urgent, so it is taking a pass on holding up the marketing of devices that are not intended for ‘medical use.’ ‘

“That means if a doctor uses the device, it will have to clear FDA approval. But if the device is going to be used to determine if you can board a plane, go to work or grocery shop, the FDA said it will not stop a manufacturer from selling it.

The FDA did say that when these thermal scanners are used for “triage use,” not medical use, they can only scan one person at a time and not the dozens some companies have marketed their gear as being able to achieve.”