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Oregon thermal imaging tech helps senior community during COVID-19

FLIR Systems, Inc. develops cameras used globally for autonomous vehicles, law enforcement and public health.

CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. — An Oregon company's thermal imaging technology is being used to protect the health of local seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

FLIR Systems, Inc., based in Wilsonville, develops various types of cameras. Uses range from cameras in autonomous vehicles to the infrared camera used to spot the Boston bomber from a helicopter in 2013.

However, at Willamette View retirement community in Milwaukie, infrared cameras are used for public health.

"We have to be on the alert," said Robert Thomas, 82, a Willamette View resident and retired physics professor.

Staff and residents pass by cameras at the entrance each day as part of the screening process for COVID-19.

"It either gives you a green checkmark or a red screen," described Willamette View CEO Craig Van Valkenburg.

Credit: Willamette View, Inc.
Willamette View resident gets cleared by FLIR thermal imaging camera.

Those who don't pass a temperature check are pulled aside for reassessment. The goal is to maintain distance between the vulnerable residents and people who may be sick with COVID-19. 

"It's the technology they use at the Pentagon," Van Valkenburg said. "They use it for major manufacturing—deploying in airports. So if it works for them, it should work for us."

Credit: Willamette View, Inc.
Willamette View staff member waits for thermal imaging assessment.

Ezra Merrill, VP of marketing and strategy at FLIR, said the thermal cameras are simply another line of defense.

"It's not a silver bullet, it's not a medical device," Merrill explained. "It's really part of a full integrated system...Questionnaires, temperature screening, access control. And what [Willamette View has] done is really a model."

The thermal camera scans people's faces, specifically checking the corners of the eyes for elevated temperatures.

Credit: FLIR Systems, Inc.

"It's a good indicator if you're looking at a population to tell if one person is warmer than the others," Merrill said.

"It's important that we try to keep as an actively engaged life for our residents as possible," Van Valkeburg added. "And using technology like the FLIR system allows us to do that."

Residents like Robert Thomas say the technology at their front doorstep helps maintain public health and peace of mind.

"It's used in a very simple and quick way...tracking [new cases] down quickly," Thomas said.

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