Fitbit to study how to detect COVID-19 in soldiers before symptoms appear

The electronics company is part of the military's latest project on determining if it's possible to know if personnel have been infected before they start to show symptoms.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Kitefre K. Oboho pins Expert Infantryman Badges (EIB) on paratroopers assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade during an awards ceremony under COVID-19 prevention conditions at Caserma Del Din, Vicenza, Italy Oct. 30, 2020. (U.S. Army / Davide Dalla Massara)

Fitbit, the company known for its wearable fitness trackers, is working with the Army on developing technology to monitor for pre-symptomatic COVID-19 infections, the company said Oct. 29.

The $2.5 million deal made through the Medical Technology Enterprise Consortium (MTEC) is small in size but big in potential for bringing novel technologies to fighting the spread of the coronavirus in the military. So far, Fitbit is only in the phase of validating its COVID-19 early detection algorithm through studies sponsored by the Army. Other offices in the military have tested the idea along with other private wearable technology companies.

“Our research shows that our bodies start to fight the disease before more visible symptoms appear and we believe Fitbit can reliably detect these signals, giving us an incredible opportunity to get ahead of this virus and help alert people that they could be sick before they unknowingly spread it to others,”Amy McDonough, GM and SVP of Fitbit Health solutions said in a news release. “This award will help advance this important research.”

A COVID-19 infection may not present any symptoms in someone who is contagious with the virus. Fitbit will use its health monitoring technology to detect slight changes in a person that indicate a potential infection. The Defense Innovation Unit is piloting a similar program with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency called Rapid Analysis of Threat Exposure (RATE).


“Wearable technologies, valuable data metrics and potentially rapid scaling solutions for broad availability, create ideal conditions for military and industry partnerships in the consumer wearables space,” Cmdr. Christopher Steele, director of the Military Operational Medicine Research Program at Army Medical Research and Development Command, said in the news release.

The testing is taking place at Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, New York state’s largest healthcare provider. Several thousand Fitbit devices will be given to medical workers who will be notified if the algorithm thinks they have COVID-19. Potential positive will be checked with traditional testing to try and verify the results.

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