Study to determine if smartwatches can detect earliest signs of COVID-19

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A new study taking place is hoping to determine if a piece of technology a growing number of Americans have on themselves at most times can catch if they should get tested for COVID-19.

Researchers with Purdue University are studying biometric smartwatch data to see if it can reliably and accurately detect changes in a person’s heart and breathing rates. These changes could indicate that a potentially-asymptomatic user should get tested positive for COVID-19.

“There won’t be a point where a smartwatch can tell you that you’re COVID-19 positive, but it could potentially say, ‘Within the next couple of days, you might be getting sick and should go get tested,’” said Craig Goergen, Purdue’s Leslie A. Geddes Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering.

The inspiration for the study comes from prior studies that have shown that viral infections increase resting heart and respiration rates and decrease heart rate variability before a patient develops a fever. The researchers are trying to find out if these indicators can be reliably measured enough at the wrist.

The research will be conducted by up to 100 Purdue students, staff and faculty, who will wear Samsung Galaxy smartwatches with a pre-loaded data collection application. They will also wear chest-based biosensors that will act as references to compare with data from the smartwatches.

Once the team collects the data, researchers will analyze and determine how much could be used to train algorithms for developing smartwatch software aimed at detecting the metrics better.

Researchers plan to eventually expand the study to include individuals at high risk of contracting COVID-19.

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