State officials hope to have facial imaging technology in place at Hawaii’s airports by the end of the year to better identify passengers who arrive with elevated temperatures so they can be offered further screening for COVID-19 before they potentially fan out into the community.
The new technology is intended to minimize staffing needs — state employees currently monitor temperature readings of arriving passengers at 133 airport gates that became fully operational last week at major Hawaii airports.
As of last week, arriving passengers who enter every major island from outside Hawaii are monitored for temperature levels by temperature screening cameras as they disembark.
Anyone with a temperature above 100.4 is asked to step aside for a voluntary secondary screening by airport paramedics or airport- based firefighters, said Tim Sakahara, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, which oversees Hawaii’s airports.
The current temperature screenings require someone to identify arriving passengers with an elevated temperature level and someone else to ask the arriving passenger to step aside for a secondary temperature check and potential further screening, Sakahara said.
The technology that went fully into effect last week allows groups of passengers to disembark and have their temperatures measured without having to stop for an individual temperature check.
The facial imaging technology scheduled to be installed by Dec. 31 is intended to detect elevated temperatures of arriving passengers to be monitored at a centralized airport location while requiring only one person to ask passengers with temperatures above 100.4 degrees to step aside for additional temperature checks and screenings for potential COVID-19, Sakahara said.
The facial images are only intended to allow screeners to track down arriving passengers with elevated temperatures within each airport to request a secondary screening, Sakahara said.
For privacy reasons, Sakahara emphasized, images of arriving passengers will be deleted promptly.
“That picture won’t be kept for more than 30 minutes,” Sakahara said. “It’s not like what you’ve seen in a spy movie. There is no identifying information of who that person is or where they live.”
Secondary screenings involving a second temperature check will be offered but are voluntary.
Passengers with temperatures about 100.4 degrees also will be offered a voluntary nasal test to check for COVID-19, Sakahara said. The actual test will be conducted at a laboratory outside of the airport.
Asked if passengers who refuse further scrutiny can walk out of the airport, Sakahara said, “Correct.”
But he emphasized that all passengers are required to provide identification and lodging information and “only a few dozen statewide” have required so-called secondary screenings since heightened scrutiny of arriving passengers began in early April.
All arriving trans-Pacific passengers must follow state rules for a 14-day quarantine and must provide state officials with identifying information and their Hawaii lodging accommodations.
As of Thursday, 133 gates across Hawaii’s five major airports that receive out-of-state passengers have temperature screening equipment.
The technology is designed to monitor passengers’ temperatures even if they’re wearing masks and hats.
“Every single gate has the equipment,” Sakahara said, “but Honolulu has the most by far.”
The technology is now operational at all gates and departure security check points at Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport; Kahului Airport; Lihue Airport; Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole; and Hilo International Airport.