Coronavirus: San Francisco start-up helps to track spread of COVID-19 using smart thermometer

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A new kind of thermometer, one that shares the temperature readings it registers, is showing promise as a tool to track the spread of flu. It's also showing promise to be a tool to predict where COVID-19 hot spots are developing.

Temperature checks are being used widely with a fever being one of the symptoms of COVID-19. But San Francisco based technology start-up Kinsa Health believes its thermometer and the data it tracks is an untapped resource to track the virus as it spreads across the country.

About a million of them are in use in schools and homes with temperature readings for multiple family members collected and analyzed anonymously, allowing Kinsa to produce maps showing hot spots before state and federal health agencies see an outbreak.

The system was designed initially to track seasonal flu, but by filtering out that data, company founder and CEO Inder Singh believes it's able to pinpoint clusters of COVID-19 early on.

The dark colors on Kinsa's heat map indicate counties with atypical illness. One concentration is in the New York area. Most of Florida is another hot spot.

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"We got on the phone with three public health colleagues and said, look, here's what's going on," said Singh.

"They called the map in question. Well, you're picking up some of the stuff in Washington and California, but gosh, Florida and the Northeast, those are hot spots on your map. Lo and behold four days later, we started seeing COVID-19 cases in Florida."

This is spring break time in Florida, which the governor stopped on Thursday. Kinsa says Florida fever clusters are twice normal levels. Its data sees an unusual H1N1 strain. Kinsa believes it's COVID-19 as well.

Real-time data could help track COVID-19 in two ways.

"Where and when should we prioritize resources across the country? Where and when should we send test kits?" said Singh.

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"Two, to monitor response. When we start seeing the level of fever curve off, the fever clusters stop rising, we start to level off and diminish, that is an indicator that any outbreak is under control."

Demand for the Kinsa thermometer has outstripped the supply. It's sold at pharmacies and major retailers for about $25.

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