Oct 14, 2020 - Health

Predicting the spread of COVID-19 with smart thermometers

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Kinsa's predictive map of COVID-19 outbreaks on Oct. 14, with flashing lights indicating states where cases are projected to rise. Credit: Kinsa

A company that makes internet-connected thermometers has shown success in predicting likely COVID-19 hot spots days or even weeks before case counts rise.

Why it matters: Even as the U.S. has ramped up coronavirus testing, too often we're still behind the pace of the virus. But connected, at-home diagnostics could give advance warning of when COVID-19 — or the next new virus — is about to strike.

Driving the news: The total number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. this week hit the highest level since August, driven by uncontrolled outbreaks in the Midwest and Mountain West.

How it works: The smart thermometer company Kinsa offers a different way to track — and even predict — the spread of COVID-19.

  • Its 1.5 million connected thermometers provide real-time data about fevers around the U.S., which can be compared to historical rates of seasonal illnesses like the flu to indicate "when something unusual is happening," says Kinsa CEO Inder Singh.
  • Kinsa's own data from the start of the pandemic shows spikes of atypical fevers peaking two to three weeks before the first recorded COVID-19 deaths in New York City — a clear early warning the outbreak was blooming.

What to watch: The system's model is predicting case increases in more than 20 states over the next four weeks, including states like Oregon, New York and Maryland that currently have low case numbers.

What they're saying: "Advance warning matters," says Singh. "If the U.S. had shut down a week earlier than it did in the spring, it would have saved tens of thousands of lives."

What's next: To get granular national coverage for COVID-19 and beyond, Kinsa would need to distribute 5.4 million thermometers.

  • Singh says it would cost $135 million initially, but governments have been slow to provide funding.

The bottom line: COVID-19 has taught us the value of being able to predict outbreaks in advance — and the price of being unprepared.

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