HONOLULU (KHON2) — One of the key steps to ensuring COVID-19 cases remain low in the state after lifting the mandatory 14-day quarantine is having a thorough screening process set up at the airports.

The state announced on Thursday, July 16, that it selected NEC Corporation of America to provide thermal temperature screening equipment at airports across the state. The company’s included $23.3 million for equipment installation and a 10-year maintenance plan of $1.42 million annually. The total contract amount is $37.5 million.

The Hawaii Department of Transportation said new thermal screening equipment will be installed immediately at five airports across the state. These airports are Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, Kahului Airport, Lihue Airport, Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole, and Hilo International Airport.

This is all part of phase one of the state’s plan to set up screening. In phase one, thermal scanners will be placed at gates for arriving trans-Pacific flights. In phase two, the scanners will be installed at interisland arrival gates. NEC Corporation said these two phases should be completed by mid-August.

The thermal screeners look similar to cameras, but there are two lenses. One camera lens works as a thermal screener, and the other works to detect faces and bodies.

(Courtesy of Infared Camera, Inc.)

A total of 116 thermal cameras will be rolled out once the project is completed. John Wise, an NEC Corporation of America spokesman said about 50 percent of the cameras will be installed in Honolulu, since the largest number of arrivals occur there.

Wise said using the screeners is simple.

“When they disembark, they’ll basically encounter an area with signage that says, ‘Thermal screenings taking place here,’ and they just proceed at normal,” said Wise.

If a person’s temperature is 100.4 degrees or over, an operator monitoring the cameras will be alerted.

“At that point, the person who’s operating the system will locate the individual who should be standing right there and notify them of the temp reading. Basically, they will be taken to a location where they will have a secondary screening,” said Wise.

(Courtesy NEC Corporation of America)

The facial monitoring system has raised some concerns with privacy.

“The data is temporary. So, passengers, after they’re scanned….their data is only retained if their temperature reads at 100.4 or greater and at that point, it’s only retained for 30 minutes,” said Wise.

He said the scanners don’t record any other information, such as the passenger’s name or their flight ticket. They will be anonymous.

The final phase of the project will be rolled out by December 31. Wise said during this phase additional facial imaging equipment will be added so that they won’t need as many operators.

“The anticipation is, as there’s more and more people that start traveling again–the people–they’ll need to proceed a little more into the building before they’re intercepted to go in for screening,” said Wise. “Part of the reasoning is the health and safety of not only passenger but of airport staff and employees, so they don’t have to be in close quarters with infected passengers.”

In a press release on Thursday, July 16, Hawaii Governor David Ige said:

“Taking these steps to implement the technology at our airports shows our commitment to providing preventative measures against COVID-19 for the community.”

Hawaii Gov. David Ige

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