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First COVID-19 Wearable Symptom Tracker

May 4, 2020 by Iris Dawn Tabangcora

This year proved to be the toughest one yet as the world is crippled with COVID-19, the defining global health crisis of our time. We have witnessed how lives went on halt and how plans were put on hold as we struggle with this invisible and vicious enemy. The latest case tally is at 4.3 million cases with almost 300,000 deaths worldwide.

The virus is unrelenting to efforts to stop it and it seems that the more we know about its nature, the more it proves to us we know less. We have witnessed the variety of its presenting symptoms despite it being primarily a respiratory infection. There are also reports of patients testing positive again despite treatment and a previously negative result. Children are plagued with a multisystem inflammatory condition that scientists attribute to COVID-19. These mysteries highlight the need for more data to put an end to this extremely contagious and lethal disease.

To facilitate early identification of symptoms and initiate prompt treatment, researchers from Northwestern University partnered with Chicago's Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in developing a wearable device that could track symptoms associated with COVID-19. The device is also designed to monitor a patient's symptoms as the disease progresses.

COVID-19 wearable monitor
Photo Credit: Northwestern University

The device measures about the same size as a postage stamp and is flexible and wireless. It can be placed just below the dip found at the base of the throat. According to the researchers, this is where airflow occurs near the surface of the skin. The device is worn 24/7 and streams information stored in cloud-based data systems for artificial intelligence to process. This makes it possible to continuously interpret respiratory activity that is otherwise not feasible with traditional monitoring.

Specifically, it gives data on coughing patterns, breathing rhythm, breath sounds, heart rate, and temperature. This is based on the premise that a majority of studies reveal that the most common symptoms associated with COVID-19 include fever, cough, and difficulty of breathing.

Data transmitted by the device is then processed to produce graphical summaries that the researchers can interpret as they monitor. The researchers are alerted to real-time changes in the patient's condition. This is also particularly important for healthcare workers as the device has the potential to pick-up symptoms before they can notice it.

The study utilizing the device is ongoing as of this writing. Researchers plan to incorporate a feature that would measure blood oxygen levels. This kind of data has never been gathered before which makes it a massive bioengineering breakthrough in the world’s fight against this pandemic.

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