The Washington Post reports that a pair of preliminary studies have found that wearable health trackers like the Apple Watch can detect coronavirus symptoms days before their wearers realize they’re sick. Stanford University researchers found that heart rate changes let them detect coronavirus infection in 11 out of 14 patients in their study, sometimes even before there was an official diagnosis.
The real star of these studies wasn’t the Apple Watch, but the Oura health-tracking ring, which can detect heart rate, breathing, and body temperature. Researchers at WVU’s Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute found that the Oura ring enabled them to predict COVID-19 infections up to three days before symptoms appeared, when the virus is most infectious.
If you own an Apple Watch or other health tracker that integrates with Apple Health, and you’d like to participate in the studies, the Scripps Research DETECT Study has an open call for volunteers—you just need to install the MyDataHelps app. Stanford’s study is also looking for participants, supporting the Apple Watch and other health trackers, though they’re looking for people with a higher risk of COVID-19 exposure.
While wearable health-trackers show promise in tracking and hopefully controlling COVID-19, these studies also demonstrate areas in which the Apple Watch could improve. Future Apple Watch generations would benefit from built-in body temperature and blood oxygen measurements. Low blood oxygen levels are a key indicator of COVID-19 infection, and those infected often have low blood oxygen levels without even realizing it. Sadly, the Apple Watch already has the capability to measure your blood oxygen levels, but the US Food and Drug Administration hasn’t let Apple enable it.