Four Things to Consider Before Implementing Temperature Checks at Your Holiday Gathering
At schools, daycares, airports, and other public spaces, temperature checks have become a common coronavirus screening measure—but at your small holiday gathering, they're not necessarily the most effective way to keep your guests safe. Here's what you need to know about implementing temperature checks at your door this year.
It's more helpful for people to track their own temperatures in advance.
"Temperature can be one of the things that marks an infection, especially with COVID, earlier than you might feel other types of symptoms," says Dr. Stephen Kissler of the Harvard Chan School of Public Health. "It can be a valuable thing to do, but I don't know that it's necessary to take everyone's temperature as they're walking in your door." What's more helpful, he says, is for everyone to become familiar with their own baseline temperature by checking it every day—starting now—which lets you know if you're starting to run a fever. "The value of temperature checks comes from doing them on ourselves regularly," he says. "Everybody has a slightly different baseline body temperature, and it can vary over the course of the day, so it's helpful to get to know your own spectrum of temperatures. If you're taking your temperature regularly, then you can see if that deviates from normal and decide whether you're going to attend that family gathering."
Temperature checks shouldn't replace other safety procedures.
Screening temperatures at the door doesn't mean you can skimp on other safety guidelines, says Dr. Kissler. "Temperature checks are a good idea, but I think that it can only be one element of a more comprehensive strategy for preventing spread," he says. "For all of the prevention measures that we have against COVID"—including testing, face coverings, temperature checks, social distancing, and improved ventilation—"none of them is especially effective on its own—but all of them together can be very effective. As a rule of thumb, I like to have three things in place at all times. The best is to have all five, but at baseline, it's worth having three."
The most critical rules to follow, he says, are your state's local requirements for gathering size. "Local guidelines absolutely should be obeyed, and that includes private gatherings and public gatherings. That's both for the protection of people at the gathering, because of course the more people you gather in one place, the more likely it is that one of those people is going to be infected, but it also has a lot to do with the protection of the community as a whole. Those restrictions are among the most effective public health guidelines that we have at our disposal right now—the ability to restrict the size of gatherings can go a very long way toward preventing these explosive spreading events."
Tell your guests in advance if you plan to check their temperature.
If you do decide to implement pre-entry temperature checks, it's polite to give your guests some warning. "I am a big fan of what I call preemptive etiquette," says Jodi RR Smith of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. "When you are planning something out of the norm, you want to let guests know in advance. This way your guests are not surprised." She recommends using phrasing like, "We are so excited you will be joining us next week. When you arrive, please walk around the house to the right. At the gate, there will be a quick temperature check. Those with elevated temperatures will be not able to join us."
If you need to send a guest home, be discreet.
CDC guidelines define a fever as a temperature of 100.4 or higher, and if your thermometer does turn yellow or red when you scan a guest, you'll need to be prepared to send him or her home (along with the rest of their household). "This is going to be very awkward, and why the temperature check should be conducted in a place a bit removed from the happening," says Smith. Gently remind your guests that one of your safety guidelines is only admitting fever-free guests, tell them how much you'll miss them, and have a parting favor nearby to "cushion the blow," suggests Smith. "The guests will take their cue from the host," she adds. "If the host is calm, the guests will be, as well."