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Courtesy: Oura Ring

When play resumes a month from now at Walt Disney World, NBA players will have the option of wearing an Oura Ring.

Why it matters: The rings track heart and respiratory rate, as well as temperature and sleep patterns. The hope is that they can be an additional line of defense against the spread of COVID-19.

Axios spoke with Oura CEO Harpreet Singh Rai to learn more about the product and why the NBA sought them out as a partner.

How does this technology work?

"Put simply, we help people understand and improve their health by focusing on better sleep. Consumers are given three scores: sleep, activity and readiness. And it's that readiness score that's really meant to tell users how they're feeling.
"The most important data we collect is temperature, which we can capture on the finger, but you don't see it on the wrist. That's one of the key reasons why the NBA isn't partnering with, say, Apple or Whoop."

When did you realize Oura could be useful in tracking COVID-19?

"We had a user in Finland who made a public Facebook post in early March, basically saying, 'I've had this ring for a year, I'm an avid athlete, and normally my readiness range is 80 to 90. Then all of a sudden, I woke up one day and my score was 54.'
He was asymptomatic, but he'd been traveling and his body temperature was a degree higher than normal, so he decided to contact the health authorities to get tested. Sure enough, he tested positive."

How'd the NBA get involved?

"We had research projects going with UCSF and West Virginia University, and the data was pretty compelling. When the NBA's wearables committee caught wind of both studies, they reached out around the end of April.
"We've since developed an opt-in program for all players and staffers going to Orlando. It's too early to know exactly how many are opting in, but it's going to be over 2,000 people."

How will you handle privacy concerns?

"We're working with the NBA, NBPA, Excel Sports and CAA to make sure everyone feels comfortable. Think about it — we're tracking sleep, so a coach could ostensibly see that a player only got two hours of sleep the night before a game and decide not to start him.
"To ensure that doesn't happen, most of the data isn't being shared. The league and union only see something called a Risk Score, which combines heart rate, heart rate variability, temperature and respiratory rate. If the Risk Score is high enough, a team doctor is alerted and can test the player.
"It's that informed testing, as we call it, that would make this a cost-effective solution for other leagues, including colleges, who can't afford to test everyone daily the way the NBA can."

Go deeper

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Science helps New Zealand avoid another coronavirus lockdown

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (L) visits a lab at Auckland University in December. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand has avoided locking down for a second time over COVID-19 community cases because of a swift, science-led response.

Why it matters: The Health Ministry said in an email to Axios Friday there's "no evidence of community transmission" despite three people testing positive after leaving managed hotel isolation. That means Kiwis can continue to visit bars, restaurants and events as much of the world remains on lockdown.

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

WHO says most pregnant women can now receive coronavirus vaccine

A doctor administering Moderna's coronavirus vaccine at a university hospital in Essen, Germany, on Jan. 18. Photo: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

The World Health Organization has altered its guidance for pregnant women who wish to receive the coronavirus vaccine, saying now that those at high risk of exposure to the COVID-19 or who have comorbidities that increase their risk of severe disease, may be vaccinated.

Why it matters: The WHO drew backlash for its previous guidance that did not recommend pregnant women be inoculated with vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, even though data indicated that pregnancy increased the risk of developing severe illness from the virus.

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

Ex-CDC director Tom Frieden on the next COVID-19 vaccines

Americans fortunate enough to receive COVID vaccines now, outside of clinical trials, are getting shots made by either Pfizer or Moderna. But newly released data from Novavax and Johnson & Johnson suggests that more vaccines could be on the way, with J&J's requiring a single dose.

Axios Re:Cap digs into the news and why it matters with Tom Frieden, former head of the CDC, as COVID-19 variants spread globally.