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Germany wants to track coronavirus outbreaks with smartwatches

Published Apr 7th, 2020 9:10PM EDT
Coronavirus Screening
Image: NACHO GALLEGO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

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  • Germany is looking to analyze data from smartwatches and fitness devices to track the emergence of new coronavirus outbreaks in the country.
  • Pulse, temperature, and sleep data would be collected anonymously from participating citizens to map the potential spread of new COVID-19 hot zones in the future.
  • Germany has conducted extensive coronavirus testing, which allowed it to keep the death toll in check compared to other European countries and the US. New screening measures might be required to relax social distancing measures.
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With over 103,000 cases as of Tuesday morning, Germany has the world’s fourth-largest COVID-19 caseload after the US, Spain, and Italy. But Germany’s management of the novel coronavirus outbreak stands out for the low number of fatalities compared with other regions. Germany’s nearly 1,900 COVID-19 deaths at the time of writing puts the country in tenth place for coronavirus fatalities.

The explanation for Germany’s success in keeping the mortality rate low is extensive testing combined with extreme social distancing measures. Implemented early, the testing protocols allowed Germany to catch coronavirus patients earlier than others. As a result, COVID-19 patients were isolated and treated earlier than those in other countries. The extensive testing campaign also explains why Germany’s total cases rose to over 100,000 in about a month.

Germany isn’t stopping with its ample COVID-19 screening attempts, though, as the country has kicked off a program that allows the collection of coronavirus-relevant data with the help of wearable devices like the Apple Watch.

The purpose of the study is to collect a large number of health parameters from willing participants in an attempt to catch the signs of novel COVID-19 outbreaks as they happen. This sort of screening may play an important role once social distancing restrictions are raised.

The application is available on watchOS, Wear OS, and other devices that work with the App Store and Google Play. The app will collect several data points from smartwatches and fitness trackers, including pulse, temperature, and sleep data. Smartwatches can’t measure the temperature of a person, but users can input such data manually in health apps — here’s a fast way to monitor your fever on the iPhone, by the way.

Image source: App Store

Changes in temperature and sleep patterns may be indicative of the presence of a disease. The most common COVID-19 symptoms include fever, fatigue, shortness of breath, and a dry cough. Having access to multiple data points for several regions in Germany could provide valuable data for epidemiologists looking to contain future outbreaks. The results will then be represented on an interactive map, Reuters explains. Authorities would be able to assess the risk of new outbreaks.

“If the sample is big enough to capture enough symptomatic patients, that would help us to draw conclusions on how infections are spreading and whether containment measures are working,” Robert Koch Institute head Lothar Wieler said. The institute coordinates Germany’s coronavirus response.

The Corona Data Donation app, developed by German wearable startup Thryve, will not collect any personally identifiable data. Users will have to register their postcode, age, sex, height, and weight before the trackers start monitoring health parameters.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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