Triangle researcher hopes wearable device app will help detect COVID-19 in asymptomatic patients

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Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Triangle researcher hopes app will help detect COVID-19 in asymptomatic patients
Wearable tech can already track your heart rate but NC researchers are trying to refine those processes to detect COVID-19 in asymptomatic people.

With all the talk of asymptomatic spread of the coronavirus and the wait for reliable test results, what if we could know we're getting sick before it happens?

It almost seems like something from a science fiction movie.

You simply wear a device close to your skin and it monitors changes in your body to figure out if you might be coming down with COVID-19.

Researchers right here in the Triangle say it's really possible with already existing wearable technology like smart watches

"Increasingly these devices, now have the ability to measure different physiological signals. So things like heart rate and oxygen saturation," Robert Furberg told ABC11.

Furberg is a health data analyst for the Research Triangle Institute's WRAP unit which stands for The Wearables Research and Analytics Platform.

Working with Garmin, a manufacturer of smart watches, Furberg has already figured out a way to determine whether people are getting another illness - the flu.

He says in that research, "We were absolutely able to tell, to identify those participants who were flu positive before these people had a fever or reported any, you know, any sort of subjective symptoms."

When the pandemic hit, Furberg immediately began trying to do the same thing with COVID-19.


His study is now focused on a U.S. Navy ship.

"The objective here is to take the technology that we've developed and work it into a platform that resides on the ship," Furberg said. "That helps the medical command staff monitor the health of the sailors and identify those who are starting to show early signs of illness."

Furberg said wearable technology already measures the things needed to identify the early onset of illness like oxygen saturation, heart rate and physical activity.

Researchers just had to refine the measurements to look at minute changes.

"We built an app that gets us down to the measurement of every single heartbeat," Furberg said.

Furberg is hopeful that researchers in his study and several similar ones will indeed be able to detect the early onset of COVID-19 and eventually many other illnesses saying, "I really believe this kind of monitoring is going to become commonplace, and normal in the future."