Can a fitness watch help spot COVID early?

FitBit and Northwell Health's Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research are partnering up to see if fitness smartwatch technology can help detect COVID-19 before symptoms even show.

"We will be partnering with Northwell Health out of New York to look at frontline workers, custodial staff, as well as hospital staff, to help look at early health signals that relate to your body fighting off signs of illness," said Amy McDonough, an executive with FitBit Health Solutions.

The collaboration is possible thanks to the $2.5 million award FitBit received from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command to develop a wearable diagnostic.

Study participants will be given a new FitBit smartwatch, receive notifications of signs of potential illness and then will take COVID-19 tests to verify, according to Northwell Health.

"There are signals in your body, so health metrics that may indicate that your body is fighting off illness," McDonough said. "In particular those are heart rate, your heart rate variability, your breathing rate and also your resting heart rate." 

"The combination of Feinstein Institutes' research expertise, Northwell's COVID-19 testing capabilities and FitBit's promising algorithm in development, presents a unique opportunity to accelerate early detection of COVID-19, particularly for our frontline health care workers," said Karina Davidson, senior vice president at the Feinstein Institutes.

In May, FitBit conducted a study of more than 187,000 FitBit users to look at the potential for early illness detection.

"Early findings from that study show the FitBit algorithm can detect nearly 50% of COVID-19 cases one day before participants report the onset of symptoms with 70% specificity," McDonough said. 

FitBit said this is important because people can transmit the virus before they realize they have symptoms or when they have no symptoms at all.

"Northwell Health and the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research have been leaders in combatting COVID-19, both on the frontlines and through scientific research. We are eager to work with FitBit to help validate their algorithm," Northwell Health's Davidson said in a statement to FOX 5 NY. "Beyond the push for vaccines, and effective therapies, early detection and wearables are an exciting avenue to further protect the health of the general public. The need for validated, insightful data is a must for any scientific advancement and we hope to lend our expertise to the FitBit team."

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