• FLIR stock is rising after reports that Amazon, others are using thermal cameras to employees with fevers
  • William Blair says temperature screening sales may be a material contributor to FLIR's annual sales
  • Elevated temperatures not seen in asymptomatic patients

Shares of FLIR Systems (FLIR), a U.S. company that manufactures thermal imaging cameras, jumped 18% over the past two days. Why is a firm that pioneered low-cost systems to helps spot human beings in darkness or smog seeing so much interest now? COVID-19, what else. 

As various economies look to reopen, companies are planning to use thermal cameras to detect employees that may be infected since a fever is one of the symptoms of the novel coronavirus. Those who have a fever also require further screening to determine the actual cause.  

Amazon is using these devices at its warehouses and Whole Foods stores instead of handheld thermometers since it's faster and allows for social distancing, according to Reuters. The report added that other companies that have explored using the camera systems, which can cost between $5,000 and $20,000, include Tyson Foods and Intel. General Motors and Wynn Resorts have already confirmed they'll be using such scanners.

FLIR and another manufacturer called Seek Thermal are rushing to meet demand, especially from Fortune 500 companies, according to Bloomberg. "They are doing demos and evaluations to help them open up their factories. There is a big demand," said Bill Parrish, a Seek Thermal co-founder. This need could expand to all sorts of places people gather in large numbers, like concerts or sporting events. Back in February, FLIR said the coronavirus was not a "needle mover." However, yesterday William Blair analyst Louie DiPalma noted "temperature screening sales may be a material contributor to FLIR's $1.8 billion in annual sales" but will have a net neutral impact on revenue. He listed its competitors as Fortive's (FTV) Fluke, Thermoteknix, and Infrared Cameras Inc.

Airports in Asia previously used this technique to spot travelers with SARS. But scanning people for elevated temperatures is not foolproof. According to a study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), less than 1 in 5 infected passengers can be detected this way. This is because the disease has an incubation period and even those carrying the disease maybe asymptomatic.

That the cameras cannot detect a virus or infection is something FLIR repeated in a coronavirus-related pitch it made on its website. "Identifying individuals with EBT, who should then be further screened with virus-specific diagnostic tests, can help reduce or dramatically slow the spread of viruses and infections," says the post.