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Thermal scanners now installed at all arrival gates at Kahului Airport

Facial imaging gear to be added before end of year

Kihei resident Jo Ann Belva has her temperature automatically checked at Kahului Airport Thursday morning as she passes through a thermal imaging checkpoint staffed by Army National Guard Specialist Cousintra Francis (left). The system installed to screen for people with elevated temperatures due to COVID-19 uses thermal imaging and facial recognition technology. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

KAHULUI — Maui’s first line of defense against travel-related COVID-19 cases was bolstered Thursday as Kahului Airport completed phase two of its thermal screening project.

The screening uses thermal imaging and facial recognition technology to identify people with a temperature of 100.4 or higher. Dual lens cameras installed at arrival gates and TSA checkpoints the past two weeks capture the images. When phase three is completed, facial recognition cameras throughout the terminal will be able to track “hot” travelers so tracers can stop and screen them before they leave the building.

While standing near one of the white, binocular-looking cameras mounted above the entrance to a TSA checkpoint Thursday, Maui Airports District Manager Marvin Moniz said he expects phase three to be completed before its scheduled year-end deadline.

Thermal imaging and facial tracking systems are being installed at all five of Hawaii’s main airports, allowing travelers to pass through without having to stop to have their temperatures taken with handheld thermometers.

Moniz said personnel from American Medical Response and Kahului Airport Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting Unit are currently assessing passengers who are flagged for high temperatures.

“If you have a temperature of 100.4, a tracker or tracer will pull you aside,” Moniz said. “They check out the individual and consult with the Department of Health to determine what the next step is for that passenger.”

He said those who have been flagged so far include a person who had a kidney infection and another with an ear infection.

For now, each camera is connected to a nearby iPad where an operator monitors the images and makes initial contact with “hot” passengers. Phase three includes construction of a control room near the second-floor escalators where two staffers will monitor the camera feeds and also be positioned to stop and question passengers with elevated temperatures. Moniz said the control room is to be staffed by Department of Health personnel.

Addressing privacy concerns, Moniz said the images are erased every 30 minutes. There are also prominent signs alerting travelers that thermal screening cameras are in use.

“It’s not recorded, it’s just like a queue,” said Maui District Assistant Airport Superintendent Larry Miller. “It’s not permanently stored.”

Miller says anyone who has traveled to Japan or China will be familiar with the technology.

“Lets put it this way, we’re already 12 or 15 years behind Asia. It will help to mitigate the travel-related threat,” he said.

* Matthew Thayer can be reached at thayer@maui.net.

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