Silicon Valley's favorite sleep tracker is being used to help detect COVID-19 symptoms early and tackle big questions about the coronavirus' aftermath
Wearable tech company Oura is partnering with the University of California, San Francisco on a study to determine whether its smart rings can detect COVID-19 symptoms early. The $300 smart ring can measure metrics like skin temperature and heart rate, and researchers are hoping it can be used to alert users when they may be sick before symptoms appear. So far, 30,000 Oura ring owners have signed up to participate in the study. Researchers are already beginning to see trends in the data that could one day potentially help the medical community understand what happens after recovery. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Harpreet Singh Rai, like many CEOs, found himself unexpectedly pivoting his company's priorities this year as the coronavirus outbreak upended daily life and business around the globe. Rai, who is CEO of the Finland-based Oura Health, had already intended to work with health institutions on medical studies. But what he didn't foresee was that his company would be distributing thousands of its $300 health tracking rings to frontline healthcare workers beginning in March as part of an effort to curb the spread of a global pandemic. "We really wanted to work with researchers to share data openly as many wearable companies don't," Rai said to Business Insider. Now, Oura is working with researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and University of California, San Diego, on a new study to see if the smart ring can be used to detect COVID-19 symptoms early. Before, the company was probably best known as Silicon Valley's favorite sleep tracker. The Oura is comfortable to wear, but it does feel noticeably thicker than your average piece of jewelry. That being said, once you get used to it, you forget it's there. It doesn't buzz, vibrate, or light up like other wearables, and it's less cumbersome to wear to sleep than a smartwatch or fitness band. Among its most high-profile fans are Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, but the ring also gained attention outside of the tech sphere after it was spotted on Prince Harry's finger. It counts Michael Dell as well as co-founders of companies such as YouTube, Twitch, and Skype among its investors..
This study, which was announced in late March, aims to find a way to detect COVID-19 early by measuring a wearer's skin temperature and heart rate among other metrics. Oura has distributed 2,000 rings to medical centers across California, New York, and Massachusetts, with two hospitals in San Francisco being among the first to get them. The company is also inviting all of its approximately 150,000 Oura ring users to participate, and 30,000 people have already signed up since the initiative kicked off in March. Those participating in the study wear Oura rings to measure changes in the body and report symptoms and any diagnosis through a questionnaire. The study is ongoing and the current data is still being analyzed, meaning researchers are far from extracting meaningful conclusions about COVID-19 from the study. But they're already beginning to see early trends that may eventually help the medical community learn more about what happens after people recover from COVID-19. "One of the really interesting things that I'm seeing in this data as I start my analysis is that some people really don't recover back to their baseline," Ben Smarr, a bioengineering and data science assistant professor for UCSD working on the study, told Business Insider. While some participants who reported feeling sick look like a "textbook" case of illness — their bodies experience some changes in heart rate variability and respiration and then return to normal when they recover — a small subset of people didn't follow that usual cycle. It's unclear if this is related to COVID-19. "When you look at sort of the patterns over time, the frequencies that their hearts keep coming back to for example, those just change," Smarr said. "They just become different." But it's too soon to know precisely what that means as it relates to the coronavirus. Researchers need more time, more data, and more analysis of that data before they can begin to understand how useful the Oura ring can be useful in detecting illness early. And because the coronavirus is so new, little is known in general about whether it will impart any long-term effects.
Some early studies coming out of China have suggested that the coronavirus may have lasting impacts on the body for some people. For example, after conducting blood test on 34 patients over the course of their hospitalization, scientists in China found that some biological markers, like liver function, didn't return to normal, according to the Los Angeles Times. Still, even that study is considerably small, and since the virus has been spreading for only a few months, it's impossible to know what long-term survivors may experience years from now. Smarr said the researchers are taking two important steps to help them fill in the gaps when it comes to data. They are in the process of trying to obtain COVID-19 antibody tests for all participants, and have begun sending monthly follow-up surveys to discern if respondents have any existing conditions that may influence how illness impacts their bodies. Some participants have sought out their own COVID-19 tests, but no tests have been distributed through the study yet. "What we would like to know is: not just did you feel sick around the time COVID was going around, but was this really COVID?" said Smarr. "So what we're trying to do is get as much of that context as possible." Smarr hopes that in addition to detecting symptoms, the research could be used to help those who may be eventually experience long-tail impacts from the virus, should there be any. "A lot of the focus initially remains on early detection of course," Smarr said. "But very soon a lot of people are going to have to switch to dealing with the aftermath."
Oura's efforts are also another example of how tech companies large and small are putting their efforts and resources toward preventing the spread of COVID-19. Among the most high-profile examples of tech stepping in to curb the virus is Apple and Google's joint effort to launch a contact tracing program that can be executed through smartphones. Oura also isn't the only wearable tech company investigating how devices worn on the body can be used to detect illness. Smart wristband maker Whoop also announced that it's partnering with the Cleveland Clinic and Central Queensland University in Australia on a study that involves collecting data from self-identified COVID-19 cases. As for Oura, Rai says the company is refocusing some of its priorities on finding ways to better help wearers understand when they may be getting sick. That will involve refining the ring's features and participating in more health studies. As an example, Rai said the company is looking at adding more features into the Oura app that can alert users when they might be coming down with symptoms of an illness. "Probably for the next year, anytime someone gets sick they're probably going to be a little more worried than normal," Rai said. "So I think, how can we help consumers understand when to take it easy, perhaps even a day or two in advance before they feel it." There are still a lot of questions around what will come of the Oura study. But Smarr says the researchers may be close to taking a first step toward being able to detect whether people are becoming sick before they realize it. "I suspect that people will keep analyzing this data for years and keep making new improvements as new techniques come out," Smarr said. "And so while I hope we have something useful very soon, I don't think that will be the end of the story."SEE ALSO: Apple is reportedly worried that people won't have the money to buy new iPhones this year, and it's an ominous sign of what's to come for people's finances Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: A cleaning expert reveals her 3-step method for cleaning your entire home quickly
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The NBA bubble has rolled out some wild technology to help keep players, coaches, and staff COVID-free — including a $300 smart ring that can monitor biometric data
The NBA has since July been making use of technology as part of its health and...The NBA has since July been making use of technology as part of its health and safety measures, which have been successful so far: there have been zero COVID-19 cases among players since the season restarted in late July. One optional tool the NBA is using is the Oura smart ring, a wearable device that can measure skin temperature and heart rate, among other metrics. About 25% of the NBA bubble has been using the health-tracking Oura ring, a spokesperson told Business Insider. Oura is one of several technologies being deployed. Players also use bluetooth thermometers, pulse oximeters, and smart wristbands to log their movements and vitals. Partnerships like Oura's with the NBA are raising new questions about the potential of wearable devices in tracking and preventing the spread of diseases like COVID-19. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. The health and safety protocols that the NBA has implemented since its season restarted in late July include many of the measures you may expect, such as regular testing, frequent disinfecting of basketballs and courts, and limitations on who players can come into contact with. But the NBA has also been making use of high-tech gadgets like smart thermometers and connected pulse oximeters to monitor players' and staff health. as USA Today first reported in mid-July. It appears to be working. The NBA announced on August 19 that none of its 341 players had tested positive for COVID-19 for the fifth week in a row. The NBA's "bubble" at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, has been without a coronavirus case since games started in late July. That might change. The league will start to allow some guests into the complex on August 31, according to a memo sent to teams and obtained by ESPN earlier this month. The potential strain on the bubble means players, coaches, and staff will be relying even more heavily on their strict protocol — and those high-tech gadgets. Among the most interesting of those gadgets is a $300 smart ring called Oura that's capable of measuring body pulse, activity, heart rate, and skin temperature. About 25% of players, coaches, and staff have been using the ring on a daily basis as they sequester in the NBA's bubble, spokesperson Joanna Shapiro told Business Insider. This number has not been reported previously. The ring is optional and not a mandatory part of the NBA's 113-page safety protocol, which required players to undergo quarantine upon arrival and implements a tiered system that governs how and when players can come into contact with others inside the bubble, among other measures, according to The Washington Post. It was previously reported that the NBA had ordered 2,000 of Oura's smart rings. Oura is also just one of several technologies being used by the NBA in its health and safety plan. Players log their symptoms in the NBA's MyHealth app, record their temperature in the app after taking it with a Kinsa Bluetooth thermometer, and measure their oxygen levels with a smart pulse oximeter made by a company called Masimo, according to USA Today. The NBA and health officials have access to a database that tracks these data points logged by NBA players, coaches, and staff members, the report says, and players wear Disney Magic bands on their wrists. These bracelets are typically used to allow guests to sign into attractions and unlock their hotel rooms, but the NBA is using them to manage everyone's whereabouts by having those in the bubble use it to check in to various points around campus, like COVID-19 testing sites and practice facilities. Some health and safety gear the NBA just dropped off for me pic.twitter.com/rNijTQP174 — Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) July 13, 2020 🏀A shot of @ESPNNBA reporter @Malika_Andrews’ displaying her “Oura” ring that NBA players have on a volunteer basis as well. The ring collects data that could detect early symptoms of Covid-19. It works in conjunction with a phone app. pic.twitter.com/BmSyYhdORj — Ben Cafardo (@Ben_ESPN) July 16, 2020 The fact that Oura is optional has made it impossible to attribute the health of players and staff to usage of the ring, and difficult to tell just how widely the gadget is being used inside the bubble until now. Still, Oura's partnership with the NBA and WNBA, as well as its usage in COVID-19 research projects, has raised new questions about the potential of wearable devices to quickly identify illness. Fitbit devices, for example, are being used in a study from Scripps Research Translational Institute. The Stanford Healthcare Innovation Lab is also looking at how fitness trackers made by Apple, Fitbit, Samsung, and Garmin in addition to Oura can be used to track diseases like COVID-19. Oura is a lightweight metallic ring clad in sensors that enable the ring to measure metrics like your heart rate, skin temperature, and respiratory rate as well as your activity. It certainly feels a bit bulkier than your average piece of jewelry, but once you get used to it the ring is barely noticeable. The ring first gained attention for its sleep tracking capabilities, as it can measure the duration of your sleep, various stages of sleep, and how restful your sleep was among other metrics. It's been worn by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Prince Harry. Oura says on its website that the ring should be considered a supplement to testing and other safety protocols rather than a standalone tool. Harpreet Rai, CEO of Oura, sees the ring as being an additional tool that can be useful for helping companies prioritize testing among employees. "Everyone's trying to figure out how to become a pro at operating in a pandemic," Rai said in an interview with Business Insider. "And I think what we've just found is being able to help those organizations prioritize those individuals who may need help most is really helping them." One way Oura does this is by calculating a risk score, Rai said. This assesses four metrics: changes in temperature, changes in respiratory rate, changes in heart rate, and heart rate variability versus a user's baseline. The idea is to eventually make it so that worksite administrators can look at a dashboard of employee data and immediately see which workers might be at risk and in need of testing. Employees would have to consent to having their data shared. Oura has been in the spotlight since the early days of the pandemic for research investigating whether the rings could be used to detect COVID-19 symptoms early. The company distributed 2,000 rings to staff at UCSF Medical Center and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital in March as part of an effort to help frontline health workers spot symptoms ahead of time. It's also worked with the West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute and WVU Medicine on a digital platform it claims can predict symptoms related to COVID-19 up to three days in advance. Still, some experts have expressed skepticism about the ring's effectiveness in detecting COVID-19 symptoms, mostly because there's little data available, CNN reported. Oura isn't a medical device, but Rai said he hopes the ring can provide more insight for signaling when it might be time to go to the doctor. The studies and research are intended to be a step in the direction of being able to provide tools that can help users seek medical attention more proactively, rather than waiting for something to go wrong. "Here's an early warning sign that something may be off, but go seek the proper medical assistance to help you confirm this," Rai said, citing an example of how the ring's data should be interpreted. "And I think that is really what's going to change the healthcare industry."SEE ALSO: You can now try all the new features coming to your Apple Watch this fall before they officially launch — here's how to do it Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: How waste is dealt with on the world's largest cruise ship
Long-suffering SARS patients offer clues about the worrisome futures that may await COVID-19 long-haulers
Studies of SARS patients have shown that many suffered from symptoms resembling chronic fatigue syndrome years...Studies of SARS patients have shown that many suffered from symptoms resembling chronic fatigue syndrome years after their infections. Doctors are drawing a similar link between chronic fatigue and lingering COVID-19 symptoms. It's unclear how long these symptoms will last, since research into SARS diminished before treatments were developed. A SARS researcher thinks some people with long-lasting COVID-19 symptoms may never be able to return to work. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. The clues were there all along. In the years following the 2003 SARS outbreak, studies showed many patients hadn't recovered six months to a year after their symptoms started. Some suffered from persistent muscle weakness and impaired lung function. A 2011 study of 109 SARS patients in Toronto found that more than half hadn't returned to work a year after they were discharged from the ICU. And 2009 research in Hong Kong found that more than 40% of SARS patients studied there reported chronic fatigue four years after their illness began. Similarly, many COVID-19 patients have reported that symptoms can last several months. In July, Business Insider spoke to 17 coronavirus patients who had symptoms for more than 100 days. Italian researchers also recently evaluated 179 patients roughly two months after their first COVID-19 symptoms and found that around 44% had a diminished quality of life. Many were still suffering from fatigue, shortness of breath, body aches, and chest pain. The new coronavirus is genetically similar to SARS: The two share about 80% of their genetic code, and both belong to the coronavirus family, which includes hundreds of viruses that mostly circulate among animals. But SARS and the novel coronavirus, clinically known as SARS-CoV-2, are two of just three coronaviruses that can prove fatal in humans. So past research into SARS patients offers critical clues about the future of COVID-19 long-haulers. "One can anticipate — and this is a prediction — that a significant proportion of the population who were employed when they became ill with [COVID-19] may not be able to return to work in any meaningful way," Dr. Harvey Moldofsky, a professor emeritus who studied SARS patients at the University of Toronto, told Business Insider. But what will be crucial this time, Moldofsky added, is that funding continue for long-term follow-up research — unlike what happened when he sought to keep studying SARS. SARS offered early evidence of lingering symptoms The SARS outbreak was deemed contained in July 2003, less than four months after it was identified by the World Health Organization. By then, there had been roughly 8,100 infections and 774 deaths reported worldwide. The outbreak was mostly limited to China. About four years later, Moldofsky began tracking a small group of healthcare workers who'd been previously infected with SARS in Toronto. At the time, he said, there was "zero interest" in SARS research, so Moldofsky carried out his study without any grant funding. "Nobody wanted to touch it because there was no incentive to get involved in a disease that disappeared," Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, told Business Insider. "If we would have had a countermeasure against SARS in 2003, we would have been in a much better place." After studying the healthcare workers for an average of two years, Moldofsky found similarities between the SARS patients and people with chronic fatigue syndrome. Some of the healthcare workers, he added, wound up in and out of the hospital for years. "They recovered from the acute illness, but they still had lingering symptoms," Moldofsky said. His research also identified a bundle of symptoms — persistent fatigue, muscle pain, weakness, and non-restorative sleep — that were unique to SARS patients. He labeled the condition "chronic post-SARS syndrome." "We showed that these were a distinct group of people, similar to the fibromyalgia [patients], but without as much pain," he said. But after Moldofsky's paper was published in 2011, it fell into "relative obscurity" along with the rest of SARS research, he said. Still, Moldofsky was convinced that his findings had important implications for future epidemics. He was right. Researchers are now zeroing in on a diagnosis for patients recovering from COVID-19 that's similar to the condition Moldofsky defined for SARS patients. "As happened after the SARS outbreak, a proportion of COVID-19 affected patients may go on to develop a severe post viral syndrome we term 'Post COVID-19 Syndrome,'" researchers at Manchester University wrote in June. They defined the condition as "a long term state of chronic fatigue" in which people experienced additional pain or brain fog after increased physical activity. Data on COVID-19 recoveries is limited Nearly 22 million people have been infected with the coronavirus worldwide, and more than 776,000 have died. About 13.7 million are counted as "recovered," but in many cases, that classification simply means someone has left the hospital. "These numbers don't really characterize what's going on," Moldofsky said, adding that the word "recovered" is "a vague term." At the start of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that mild coronavirus symptoms typically lasted for 14 days, while the World Health Organization reported that recovery could last up to six weeks for severe or critical patients. More recently, both agencies have acknowledged that the coronavirus may have longer-term symptoms, but neither has offered a timeline. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in July that it may take "months to a year or more to determine if there are any long-lasting, deleterious consequences of the infection." That uncertainty means patients already struggling with long-lasting consequences of COVID-19 don't get clear answers from their doctors. "We're all kind of diagnosing each other," Peggy Goroly, a 56-year-old from Long Island who belongs to a coronavirus support group on Facebook, told Business Insider. "You'll hear someone else say something and then you realize it's happening to you, too." Goroly has been sick since March 5, with symptoms including fatigue, brain fog, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath. Others in online support groups say they've been in and out of the emergency room. Some face unemployment, are considering filing for disability, or struggle to care for their children or family members. "Unfortunately, there will be a small subset of people for whom that becomes the case and these symptoms really do become a chronic thing that you're dealing with for years," Dr. Nate Favini, the medical lead at Forward, a primary-care practice that's collecting data on coronavirus patients around the country, told Business Insider. Parallels to chronic fatigue syndrome A growing chorus of doctors, including Fauci, have likened long-lasting coronavirus symptoms to chronic fatigue syndrome, which is often characterized by cognitive impairment, muscle pain, and a debilitating lack of energy. "There's talk in the the medical community about a chronic fatigue syndrome-like illness that could happen after coronavirus," Favini said. Simon Wessely, former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told New Scientist in April that he predicted the pandemic would lead to "many, many cases of post-infective fatigue syndrome." The 2009 Hong Kong study found similar long-term trends among SARS patients: Among a group of 233 patients, 27% met the CDC's clinical criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome. There are several possible reasons for these long-term health problems among coronavirus patients. In some cases, patients may develop blood clots that contribute to feelings of fatigue. "If people have a bunch of small clots in their lungs, that can continue to cause fatigue for a long period of time — even after the clots are gone — if there's damage to the blood vessels," Favini said. An aggressive immune response to the virus could also trigger inflammation in the body that damages healthy tissue. "You have to separate the damage from the disease," Dr. Ramzi Asfour, an infectious-disease doctor in Marin County, California, previously told Business Insider. "The symptoms are probably coming from an immune reaction." Either of these responses could impair the nervous system, resulting in depleted energy, muscle weakness, or trouble concentrating or sleeping. In his 2011 study of SARS patients, Moldofsky found evidence that the virus had crossed the patients' blood-brain barriers, leading to long-lasting neurological problems that disrupted their sleep and cognition. He thinks the new coronavirus likely operates in a similar manner. "It's an inflammatory disease that is interfering with the conduction of the normal pathways of the nervous system," Moldofsky said. Some symptoms are still baffling to doctors A major challenge in studying the effects of COVID-19 — in addition to the lack of long-term data — is that patients who feel sick can appear healthy on paper. "If you look at my test results, I look healthy as a horse, but my symptoms aren't matching the test results," Cheyenne Beyer, a 27-year-old coronavirus patient in Austin, Texas, previously told Business Insider. "Pretty much every doctor I've run across has tried to pin it on anxiety first." Moldofsky said the current refrain among physicians is similar to the one he heard in 2011: "We don't know what to do with our patients. They're complaining they're sick, but they're not sick. We can't find anything wrong with them." Doctors were similarly confounded by lingering, mysterious ailments among SARS patients, he added, since their MRIs didn't show obvious damage to the nervous systems. "They had no idea why they were like this," Moldofsky said. "No one could give them any explanation." The patients also didn't respond to treatment. "They tried everything," Moldofsky said. "They tried physiotherapy, occupational therapy. They had psychologists try to treat them, and they weren't getting anywhere." Moldofsky added that he's heard anecdotally about healthcare workers he studied in 2011 who still aren't better. "This is going on years now that they're afflicted with this and they could not return to their duties," he said. But he never got funding for a follow-up study. Doctors are starting to look for answers As more coronavirus patients struggle with the long-term aftermath of their infections, scientists have begun to investigate the drivers of these lasting symptoms. Researchers at King's College London are examining whether certain genetic or environmental factors might lead to post-COVID syndrome. In May, a coalition of scientists at the Open Medicine Foundation embarked on a multi-year study to see whether COVID-19 triggers chronic fatigue syndrome. Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland, has also co-sponsored a bill in Congress that calls for $15 million in annual funding through 2024 to support research into COVID-related cases of chronic fatigue. But Moldofsky said many doctors may still find themselves at a loss for how to help patients right now. "Epidemiologists are always looking for short, quick, yes-no responses because you're sampling hundreds of thousands of people," he said. "Well, the symptoms are not objective. They're subjective." Even so, he hopes the scale of this pandemic will ensure that potential treatments for post-COVID syndrome get funding. "When we better understand what this disease is all about — how it affects the organs of the body, how it affects the brain, the heart, the kidneys, the liver — then specific remedies may become available," Moldofsky said. "It's a hope, and I'm optimistic that such will be the case."Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Some COVID-19 survivors are losing the ability to walk and need to relearn motor skills — these patients are proof
A new study finds that people who are dying from coronavirus potentially lose at least 10 years of their lives
A recent study conducted by the University of Glasgow's researchers found that COVID-19 patients might have...A recent study conducted by the University of Glasgow's researchers found that COVID-19 patients might have lasting health impacts. In fact, an average male can lose about 13 years of his life, and a female 11 years, the study noted. Researchers leveraged data provided by the World Health Organization and calculated the average time a person would have lived if they didn't die from a health event like the coronavirus diagnosis. This study is still awaiting peer review, and it's still unknown whether the novel coronavirus could trigger long-term health conditions. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. Researchers have found that a COVID-19 diagnosis might have more detrimental consequences than one might expect. On average, those who died from the novel coronavirus lost more than a decade of their life to the disease, according to a recent study conducted by the University of Glasgow in Scotland. "COVID-19 is not killing people who are already near death, rather it's claiming the lives of many people more than a decade before their time," ABC News reported. In fact, the average male who died from COVID-19 lost about 13 years, and female 11 years, according to the study. As of May 1, the coronavirus has killed more than 213,000 people and infected more than 3.1 million worldwide, but there is very little information around whether this virus has long-lasting health impacts. In fact, there are still many mysteries surrounding the origins, transmission, and outcomes of the illness. University of Glasgow's experts used a statistical measurement called "years of potential life lost," or the average time a person would have lived if they didn't die from a health event like the COVID-19 pandemic, the study noted. They leveraged healthcare and WHO data, and they also accounted for age, sex, and underlying health conditions when making their estimates, ABC News reported. Dr. David McAllister, a senior clinical lecturer and lead researcher of the University of Glasgow's coronavirus study, previously told ABC News that his findings suggested coronavirus has similar long-term impacts as coronary heart disease, in which your life expectancy rate would also decrease. Notably, the study is currently awaiting peer review, in which other experts working in the same field would evaluate and verify the accuracy of its findings. Though no one really knows if coronavirus has lasting health damage, some early cases in China noted reduced lung function among recovered patients, Business Insider previously reported. Additionally, people who have blood clots or preexisting medical conditions also face a higher risk for long term damage. SEE ALSO: We're repeating one of the worst mistakes of the Ebola outbreak in the hunt for a coronavirus cure Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Inside London during COVID-19 lockdown