A return from COVID-19 will mean new technology and practices

The post-COVID new normal may require autonomous artificial intelligence-driven fever monitoring in all buildings.

A friend just sent us photos of her eating at a dine-in restaurant in Vancouver. The server was wearing a mask and the tables were noticeably distant from one another, but it was dining-in at a white table cloth restaurant! This COVID-19 pandemic is going into a recovery phase across the country. However, as many employers and building owners are only now realizing, re-opening facilities (in a responsible, physically distancing sort of way that minimizes the risk of a second wave) is actually harder than it was to lock down.

Going forward, property owners, managers, retailers, and employers are likely going to face higher statutory and common law duties relating to the creation and maintenance of safe and healthy indoor environments for their occupants. In the post COVID-19 era, this will likely include some sort of symptom-based screening programs to minimize the transmission of the virus in these community settings. Current measures of COVID-19 screening in Canada have been ineffectual (sitting at a desk and asking staff and customers to self-report symptoms is hardly foolproof) even in locked-down limited-access scenarios, but such self-assessing protocols will be all but useless in any full-scale return to business. What then will property managers, retailers, and employers do?

Well, a valuable lesson may be learned from several Asian countries that have had success in containing the spread of other highly infectious diseases (e.g. SARS, Dengue Fever, Ebola, H1N1). Many of these countries implemented comprehensive fever screening programs using those “forehead temperature guns” that we see in the media, as well as thermal-imaging cameras in various public places like hospitals, shopping centres, office buildings and transportation hubs. For property managers, retailers, and employers, fever screening may be a key tool in satisfying that duty of care.

However, the current use of forehead temperature guns is far from efficient. They require point-blank proximity by individual staff (well inside the six feet distancing currently recommended), and they are far less than practical in almost any setting that attracts any amount of appreciable foot traffic. Each individual to be screened needs to stop and stand in front of another individual to be cleared for ingress: even with an army of staff standing by the elevators of some of the big office towers or at factory entrances during shift changes, or at any sports venue, and even with staggered shifts to help flatten the peak ingress times, that still translates to a frustratingly slow ingress protocol. Most importantly, these forehead thermometer guns require body temperature to be measured at a close range, which creates potential risks for cross transmission of COVID-19 between the surveying staff and individuals receiving temperature checks.

Thermal imaging cameras have been deployed to overcome the scale issue. Anyone who has seen any of the Predator movies will know this technology, which comes from a military pedigree, originally developed for the purpose of imaging: humans light up as bright orange against a background of blue for inanimate objects. While thermal imaging cameras can detect humans with higher than average temperatures, this technology lacks the precision and accuracy of their forehead thermometer gun competitors.

An innovative Canadian technology company affiliated with the MaRS Discovery District and the University of Waterloo has developed an advanced and promising solution that seems to combine the precision of the forehead thermometer guns and the scale and autonomous operation of thermal imaging cameras. Dr. Dayan Ban, a full professor in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo, is working in conjunction with AIH Technology Inc., a leader in computer vision technology, to deploy what they call “computer vision guided infrared sensing arrays” to support high-volume and high-precision fever screening programs here in Canada.

Greatly summarized, this innovative technology uses artificial intelligence to find and aim thermometers at moving human foreheads in crowd settings. Individuals never need to stop to be tested. This technology is far faster and much more convenient than forehead thermometer guns, and far more accurate than thermal imaging cameras. Helen Qiao, the CEO of AIH, notes “this new technology aims infrared sensor arrays using computer vision algorithms that can detect human foreheads in moving crowds from a distance – the combination makes fever determinations with pinpoint accuracy in real time with large groups of moving people.”

As lawyers, we can’t really do the technology jargon justice, but we’ve seen the demonstration and it is truly quite amazing. Inbound customers and staff can approach an entrance (like an elevator lobby) in the ordinary course without queues or delays, individually or with colleagues as a group, and without the need to consciously look-up at the cameras. The technology spots individuals with fevers from a considerable distance and can operate 24 hours a day. As professionals who work in office towers, we would prefer this technology to the frustration of line-ups of any sort and we would be comforted in knowing that there is effective screening for our work, recreational and shopping environments.

Alas, it is obvious that even when pandemic lockdown restrictions are relaxed throughout Canada, things will never be back to “normal.” Even if we dodge a second wave of COVID-19, there will always be a COVID-20 or COVID-21 (whatever the next big pandemic may be called) looming in the future, and all of these infections are likely to be flagged by fever, regardless of any other symptoms. Property management going forward will be the art finding the balance between effective screening and efficient traffic management – a difficult needle to thread, but one in which “computer vision-guided infrared sensing arrays” is likely to play a significant role.

Megan J. Lem is a corporate lawyer in the New York office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP.
Megan J. Lem is a corporate lawyer in the New York office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP. This article reflects the personal views of the authors alone.


Jeffrey W. Lem is a lawyer in the Ontario Public Service and bencher of Law Society of Upper Canada.
Jeffrey W. Lem is Editor-in-Chief of the Real Property Reports and the Director of Titles for the Province of Ontario. The opinions expressed in this article are personal to the author and not attributable or referable to the government of the Province of Ontario.
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