This One Device Can Detect Coronavirus Two Weeks Before It's Fatal

Using a simple health gadget can alert you if you have COVID-19.

In the race to contain the coronavirus, many medical experts are looking to gadgets that could detect illness before symptoms appear. In the early stages of the pandemic, doctors suggested that people buy personal pulse oximeters. Then tech companies and research labs paired up to test if wearable devices like Fitbits and the cutting-edge Oura ring—which track heart rates, temperature changes, and sleep schedules—can predict sickness. Despite all of these innovations, one basic device still reigns supreme in detecting coronavirus: a thermometer.

But we're not talking about just any regular thermometer. Kinsa is a company that builds smart thermometers that detect COVID-19 outbreaks two weeks before they turn fatal. The thermometers take your temperature and record the final reading to an app, where you can add any symptoms you might be experiencing. The app guides you through triage questions so you know what next steps to take if you're ill. It'll even connect you to a doctor or urgent care with the click of a button. You can see how the Kinsa thermometer works here:

Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Kinsa's thermometer in 2014, the app has been tracking flu and fever patterns by ZIP code. (Individuals remain anonymous to protect their medical privacy.) As the coronavirus swept through the United States, experts have studied the app's data and found that there are trends in atypical fevers likely linked to COVID-19 cases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 89 percent of hospitalized coronavirus patients had a fever. So, this information is essential for early detection of coronavirus.

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After analyzing the ZIP code metrics, Kinsa launched a HealthWeather map that breaks down the fever spikes in each county as well as shows the rate at which illness is spreading in real-time. For instance, on June 9, Kinsa detected high levels of transmission "indicative of an outbreak" in both Florida and Texas, Kinsa CEO Inder Singh told NPR's "Here & Now." The following week, they noticed an increase of transmission levels in Oklahoma and Missouri. The warning signs were accurate: These four states are now hotspots due to a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

This data could help epidemiologists track transmission and advise reopening strategies. In fact, Philadelphia was the first city to distribute Kinsa thermometers and use the forecasts to determine safety protocols. Kinsa is also working with a number of states, such as Connecticut, Idaho, Colorado, and Oregon, to donate the $30 thermometers to local communities, especially those that are underserved or low-income.

"The whole reason we started the company is to detect, predict, and help respond to outbreaks," said Singh. "And this is an opportunity for us to use the data to have a really massive public health impact." For more COVID-19 news, check out This Is How Likely You Are to Get Coronavirus This Year, Doctor Says.

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