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Hospitals screen employees for COVID-19, some take temperatures

Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit
Paulette Parker
Michigan Radio

In the wake of the new coronavirus pandemic, hospitals across the state are now screening all employees before they start their shifts.

That screening usually comes in the form of a survey, where they self-report recent domestic and international travel, contact with someone who has COVID-19, and symptoms of COVID-19 like a dry cough and a fever. But are hospitals actually taking their employee’s temperatures?


Sparrow Health System, based out of Lansing, is one such hospital. Spokesperson John Foren said, “We are taking the temperatures of all caregivers and visitors to any of our 115 sites of care.” 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission created pandemic preparedness guidelines after the H1N1 virus spread in 2009 and updated it in response to COVID-19. It says it’s legal to take an employee’s temperature if the results remain confidential:

“Generally, measuring an employee’s body temperature is a medical examination. If pandemic influenza symptoms become more severe than the seasonal flu or the H1N1 virus in the spring/summer of 2009, or if pandemic influenza becomes widespread in the community as assessed by state or local health authorities or the CDC, then employers may measure employees’ body temperature.

Because the CDC and state and local health authorities have acknowledged community spread of COVID-19 and issued attendant precautions as of March 2020, employers may measure employees' body temperature. As with all medical information, the fact that an employee had a fever or other symptoms would be subject to ADA confidentiality requirements.”

The guide does note that not everyone who had H1N1 in 2009 and not everyone who has COVID-19 will have a fever as one of their symptoms.

Detroit Medical Center says it will take employees’ temperatures, but only if deemed necessary. According to spokesperson Brian Taylor, “Anyone entering our facilities is screened for signs and symptoms and if necessary their temperature is taken. If anyone has a temperature of 100 or over they cannot enter the building. Staff is asked to call their manager and go home and visitors are asked to call their physician for further direction. The decision [to take a temperature] is made based on whether an individual is showing or reporting signs and symptoms.”

Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids confirmed that it did screen its employees, but it did not take their temperatures, instead asking them to self-report a fever. Spokesperson Bruce Rossman said, “Every day, team members must complete and submit an electronic health survey before entering one of our care sites. Staff cleared by this survey are then allowed to enter our facilities. The presence of fever is a question in this daily survey but only one factor in the screening process.”

Michigan Medicine spokesperson Mary Masson said, “We are not taking temperatures as far as I'm aware. We screen everyone with questions about cough, cold or respiratory illness as they report to work and they are given masks to wear.”

Beaumont Health did not specify what their screening process was for employees, but spokesperson Robert Ortlieb assured Michigan Radio that Beaumont “is compliant with local and state guidelines.” 

Henry Ford Health could not be reached for comment.

Oakland County has legally mandated that all businesses take their employees’ temperatures before allowing them to work.

According to former ACLU lawyer and Michigan law professor Michael Steinberg, Americans, particularly government employees, shouldn’t be too worried about the government overstepping their bounds in the time following the pandemic.

“This is specific to a health emergency, this is a rule that cannot be applied outside of a pandemic. Certainly, given the extreme circumstances, there’s nothing legally preventing the government from doing what it’s been doing.”

He cites examples of government overreach like Japanese internment camps in response to Pearl Harbor and the PATRIOT Act in response to 9/11, saying that responses to the coronavirus pandemic have been largely measured so far.

“The government, at times, has implemented knee-jerk reactions to national emergencies that were not narrowly tailored to address the issue. The CDC and physician have made it clear how the disease spreads, and if the government and if employers take action that’s narrowly tailored to dealing with that disease, then there’s no constitutional violation.”

It’s not always so cut and dry for healthcare workers, however. A doctor at a hospital in southeast Michigan says that systems that involve self-reporting rely on people being completely truthful, something that can be difficult.

“It's not like it's not like we are being when you walk through the doors that you're getting your temperature taken and someone's looking down your throat...we're assuming that everyone's being completely a hundred percent honest when they're walking through the hospital. But the rate of transmission of this virus is extremely high.” They say, “You're depending on everything  to work the way it does by everyone being perfectly honest. But at the same time, too, I think particularly - I mean, there's lots of stories of nurses where they're in this very difficult dilemma and they have a duty to do their job - but if they are the ones who don't come in, even if they're mildly symptomatic, then they know that the person that's going to maybe potentially fill in the gap is not going to be anywhere nearly as well qualified as them, and then patient care will start to suffer. And so there's a lot of concerns.”

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