Earlier this month, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners approved the purchase of a $420,000 thermal imaging camera system that will be put in place in a half-dozen county buildings that are used heavily by the public.

The system is effective at displaying people’s precise temperature on a remote monitor, with no need for a county employee to have physical interaction with the person entering the building. While the reason behind the desire for the system is obvious with a pandemic going on, the $420,000 purchase has some people questioning if the expenditure was worth it – given that an effective COVID-19 vaccine could be available in a matter of months.

The system, which includes 21 cameras and smart “Artificial-Intelligence” software, will alert staff when someone is entering a building with an elevated temperature. In addition to the cost of the actual system, there will be other costs as well, such as training county employees – or hiring new ones and paying them to monitor the images and the data.

So, the question is this: Will the $420,000 thermal imaging system be good for anything once the pandemic is no more?

Guilford County Information Technology Director Hemant Desai, when asked that question, responded in an email.

“While various departments where we will be deploying these may have additional use cases,” he stated, “I believe that our overall strategy would involve using the investment we make in these Thermal vision system[s] for any future health related emergencies.”

He added that the system is “adaptable,” which “makes it possible for us to use them for future health related or as add on to our overall security infrastructure.”

The system would indeed be very useful in the future if there are more pandemics coming around after the coronavirus pandemic – specifically if there are pandemics of diseases where elevated temperatures are a sign of infection.

However, pandemics are very rare events in Guilford County.

Desai emphasized that “The system is very adaptive so we believe it will continue to provide value even in the future.”

Other county officials questioned offered no specific post-COVID-19 threat potential –aside from another pandemic – that the thermo-camera system will be good for.   Though others pointed out that just the addition of 21 cameras enhances the county’s security system even if the thermal-imaging aspects are never employed after the COVID-19 crisis.