By Douglas Busvine
BERLIN (Reuters) – German public health authorities launched the smart watch application on Tuesday in partnership with health technology startup Thryve to help monitor the spread of COVID-19 and analyze whether steps to deal with the novel coronavirus pandemic work.
The Corona-Datenspende application https://corona-datenspende.de (Corona Data Donation) collects vital signs from volunteers who use smart watches or fitness trackers – including pulse, temperature and sleep – to analyze whether they are symptoms of the disease like a cold.
Results will be represented in an interactive online map that allows – together with other data inputs – for health authorities and the general public to assess the prevalence of infection to the zip code level.
“If the sample is large enough to catch enough symptomatic patients, it will help us to draw conclusions about how the infection spreads and whether detention measures work,” said Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute who coordinates the German coronavirus response.
Germany has the fourth highest COVID-19 caseload behind the United States, Spain, and Italy of nearly 100,000 but has dropped deaths to 1,600 which is relatively low thanks to initial and extensive testing.
German authorities have been more careful than some Asian countries in using digital technology to fight the corona virus, controlled by stringent European data privacy laws and paying attention to public skepticism about surveillance that is reminiscent of the era of Nazi or communist rule.
But a similar approach has been used here to model the spread of influenza while, in the United States, the connected ‘smart’ thermometer distributed by Kinsa Health has offered initial insight into how quickly COVID-19 spreads, the New York Times reported https: // www .nytimes.com / 2020/03/18 / health / coronavirus-fever-thermometers.html last month.
READY TO DEPARTURE
The Corona Data Donation application, available for download on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store, is voluntary and the data will be processed anonymously. To register, users must enter their zip code, age, gender, height and weight.
Data shared by connected devices will be monitored continuously, with readings such as high temperatures or sleep disturbances that indicate whether a person may have experienced COVID-19.
Project leader Dirk Brockmann said he hopes 100,000 people – or 10% of smart watch users and German fitness trackers – will register. Even 10,000 will be analytically useful, he added.
The Corona Data Donation application was developed in four weeks in collaboration with Berlin-based startup Thryve https://thryve.health, a data-based ‘wearable health’ startup that realized earlier this year that its approach could be adapted to detect COVID-19.
Thryve approached the Robert Koch Institute with his findings, said spokesman Sebastian Wochnik. “Their epidemiologists really like this unique solution. With more data, their models clearly work better,” he said.
Thryve was founded in 2017 as a commercial spin-off from the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research, one of 72 applied research groups under the umbrella of the German Fraunhofer Society.
Another branch of the Fraunhofer Society is involved in developing a European technology platform to support smartphone applications that will use Bluetooth connections between devices to help track and warn those at risk.
(Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Keith Weir)
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