The Administration Wants the CDC To Do Temperature Checks At Airports. The CDC Said No.

There’s little question that the CDC performed badly during this global coronavirus pandemic. Not only did poor execution cause major delays in rolling out testing, but it still fails at a basic mission of collecting and disseminating crucial data about U.S. infections.

The executive branch, though, wanted to give the CDC a mission: checking temperatures of airline passengers at 20 airports. The CDC, though, declined saying it wasn’t likely to be effective (due to asymptomatic spread) and it may not be legal. They responded to the Department of Homeland Security “Please kindly strike out CDC from this role.”

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows pressed ahead anyway, directing the DHS to announce the airport screenings, which would be visible and instill confidence in travelers, according to meeting notes.

Passengers with fever, Meadows said, would be referred to the CDC for clearance. The full plan has not yet been finalized.

While temperature checks may not stop the virus, they do represent something akin to security theater, a sign that the government is doing something which might make some people feel safer to travel. Southwest Airlines has publicly asked the TSA to do temperature checks, and Frontier Airlines is preparing to begin doing this themselves.

We certainly don’t want sympomatic COVID-19 patients spreading the virus anywhere including on planes, but that’s likely not the greatest threat (people with a fever often know they have it, most though not all will stay home). The risk is from people close to showing symptoms. However even rapid testing can have a significant error rate, so may not be a panacea either.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Nothing in this world is 100%, not even vaccines.
    Fever checks I agree is purely theater, but rapid airport testing would probably be the safest, most achievable method to get us traveling abroad again.

  2. I wouldn’t be so sure that people who are sick are all staying at home.
    If you have a mild fever, slight runny nose, slight cough, or sore throat, it is more than likely that you would be going about doing your normal business.

    Of course, for someone who is really truly unwell, that’s a different story.

  3. That it’s not the CDC job it’s a given; all you have to do is read its charter. Plus with all the budget cuts it can’t even supply tests or cut through the political crud to raise the alarm when COVID-19 was already a recognized thread.

    But isn’t catching symptomatic spreaders better than catching none at all? China and most Asian countries think it is, and they all did far better than the US at controlling or even suppressing COVID-19.

  4. Well, remember, there is such a thing as both a false positive AND a false negative. If this ONLY missed asymptomatic carriers, that would be one thing, but it will also include folks who just have a naturally higher temperature. I’m not a scientist so I don’t have access to academy journals, but just from a quick Google search the first result ( came back indicating that this type of temperature checking is pretty inaccurate, and in the study was off from the real temperature about 12.3% of the time, according to the abstract. I assume the CDC scientists who made this recommendation were able to do the math on this one and see that it would do more harm than good.

  5. Pop a couple of aspirin about 30 minutes before going through temperature screening and your fever should be okay!

  6. This is completely pointless. People can be infected and spreading the virus and not have a fever. Obviously if they see someone with symptoms at the airport that person should be flagged for further evaluation but delaying everyone to do temperature checks when they aren’t going to stop many of the virus cases just creates delays and is not appropriate. Once again the white house thinks it knows better than the medical experts and this crap has got to stop. We don’t need people some of whom may have not even read a complete book making health decisions for the entire country.

  7. Where did you get your medical degree Mr. Leff? Stick to what you know.

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