Paula Chin in Bricks & Bucks on May 27, 2020
At the Hotel des Artistes co-op on the Upper West Side, people were in a panic. Several workers at the 18-story, 119-unit luxury building had been sickened by the coronavirus, and residents and staffers alike were terrified that the disease could spread unchecked if serious steps weren’t taken, and soon.
That’s when the co-op board turned to high tech – specifically, a fever-detection camera system called Thermal Guardian – to help spot people who might have contracted COVID-19 and prevent them from contaminating others.
“This is a big building, with so many guys delivering packages, groceries and meals, and we needed a way to keep everyone safe,” explains Joe Coffey, a member of the co-op board who also happens to be chairman at Villency Design Group, which designs furniture, interiors and consumer products. “We source a lot of things out of Asia, where people routinely have their temperatures taken at airports and at borders to prevent infectious diseases. Spurred by the pandemic, my partner and I searched our network of manufacturers and had them create Thermal Guardian in a month.”
The device consists of a thermal camera, mounted on a tripod and connected to a laptop, that has a detection range of three to 15 feet. When people pass within the scanning zone, it immediately displays infrared images of the body surface, along with each individual’s highest surface temperature.
“By setting this up in your lobby, you can identify people with a fever as soon as they walk in the door – without having to get up close, point a temperature gun at them and pull the trigger,” says Coffey, who informed the co-op board about the $10,500 system in late April. He then recused himself as the board discussed whether to buy one.
“They decided to give it a trial run, and it worked out very well,” says Gerard J. Picaso, senior managing director at Halstead, who manages the property. “They came up with a simple protocol, which is to alert delivery people right then and there if they’re running a temperature and ask them to leave the building. If it’s a resident, we’re not stopping them from coming in, but they’ll be told later – privately, not in public – that they should call their physician. But that hasn’t happened yet.”
Thermal Guardian, however, is not foolproof. Most people who have COVID-19 don't have fevers, and as many as 25% of infected people don’t show any symptoms at all, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This means that screening for high temperatures could fail to detect more than half of those who are infected. And while it can sense elevated skin temperatures, the system isn’t precise enough to determine whether someone actually has a fever or has simply gotten overheated for another reason, such walking in from a hot car.
Still, it’s a first line of defense. “When staffers who had the virus come back to work,” Picaso says, “everyone sees they no longer have a temperature, which is very reassuring. This is a big building, with manual elevators, so you’re always in contact with people. On a panic scale, the place has gone from a 10 down to a three. There’s still some anxiety, but it’s a lot calmer.”
As Picaso sees it, systems like Thermal Guardian are destined to become the new normal. “When restrictions are lifted and we start repairs and construction again, all contractors and workmen will be screened,” he says. “I’ve been recommending it to all my buildings, especially the larger ones. It’s the wave of the future.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – PROPERTY MANAGER: Halstead Management. PRODUCT SUPPLIER: Villency Design Group.
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