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03 Apr 2020

Could fitness wearables act as early detection devices in fight against coronavirus?
BY Tom Walker

The study will look at data provided by WHOOP Strap 3.0 – a wearable worn on the wrist

The study will look at data provided by WHOOP Strap 3.0 – a wearable worn on the wrist
photo: WHOOP

One of the factors that has made the coronavirus outbreak so severe across the globe is that some of those infected do not show any symptoms, resulting in them going about their lives as normal, infecting even more people.

Now, a team of researchers is setting out to study whether subtle hints offered by wearable fitness technology could help identify asymptomatic cases – and provide a critical advantage in the race to trace the virus's spread.

Central Queensland University (CQUniversity) in Australia is partnering with fitness tech start-up WHOOP to investigate a potential connection between changes in respiratory rate and COVID-19 symptoms.

The University plans to conduct a study using physiological data, collected via the WHOOP Strap 3.0 – a wearable worn on the wrist – from hundreds of self-identified COVID-19 cases among WHOOP members, to better understand the current health crisis.

The study will also mine data from the WHOOP Journal, an interactive feature which allows members to track a variety of daily behaviours against their physiological data with real-time feedback on their bodies.

Collaborating with Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, US, the study will use the WHOOP data to look to find out whether a noticeable increase in respiratory rate is a measurable precursor of COVID-19 symptoms.

"WHOOP data may be able to help identify the coronavirus during the incubation period before someone feels sick," Will Ahmed, founder and CEO of WHOOP.

Professor Greg Roach, CQUni's Head of Sleep & Circadian Physiology Research, added: "By collating contextual factors collected in the WHOOP Journal with physiological trends in raw data, we may be able to provide insights into the health implications before, during and after suspected cases of COVID-19."

Launched on 9 March, The WHOOP Journal includes COVID-19 as an option for members to monitor their symptoms. Members have the ability to complete surveys and daily condition check-ins as well as to opt-in to participate in studies like this one.

In addition, WHOOP has released an update to its mobile apps, which will make it easier for members to monitor and interpret their respiratory rates.

Another wellness wearable that is being used in COVID-19 early detection research is the "smart ring" Oura.

Around 2,000 emergency medical workers in San Francisco, California, have been given Oura rings to wear, in order to track their body temperature and other vital signs.

The move is part of a study, by University of California San Francisco (UCSF), to try to identify the early onset of COVID-19 and help curb its spread.

As well as mining the data from the medical workers, UCSF will ask Oura Ring’s approximately 150,000 users to share their medical data in order for researchers to try and develop an algorithm that could detect the earliest stages of coronavirus.

The ultimate goal of the research is to create a COVID-19 early detection device, which the team hopes to be able to provide by late 2020 – when the possible "second wave" of coronavirus is expected to hit.

“The device would help people self-quarantine sooner and get treatment sooner,” said doctor Ashley Mason, the UCSF assistant psychiatry professor and lead investigator, speaking to local media.



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