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Covid-detecting ‘smart rings’ to be trialled by staff at Las Vegas resort

Coronavirus pandemic

Covid-detecting ‘smart rings’ to be trialled by staff at Las Vegas resort

Small fitness devices slipped on to a finger reported to detect virus days before symptoms appear

The Venetian resort in Las Vegas: the owner, Las Vegas Sands, has invested in 1,000 heat-detecting rings from the Finnish start-up Oura © Bloomberg

A prominent Las Vegas casino operator is embarking on a novel strategy to fight coronavirus among its staff, giving them wearable “smart rings” that can detect infection before symptoms occur.

Las Vegas Sands, which owns the Venetian and Palazzo resorts, bought 1,000 “smart rings” from Oura, a Finnish wearable technology start-up, after two studies indicated that the discreet products worn on a finger can accurately predict the onset of Covid-19 symptoms.

It will be the first big US company to deploy such pre-symptomatic virus detection devices internally.

Rob Goldstein, Sands’ president, said if the pilot programme goes well, he anticipates purchasing a $300 wearable for each of his 9,300 employees.

“Our approach is to be measured, to make sure this makes sense, and if it does, we’ll expand it,” he said. “We need to protect our people and make it a very safe place to work.”

The Oura ring was originally designed as a fashionable sleep-tracker, counting Prince Harry and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey among its more than 150,000 customers. Unlike the Apple Watch and Fitbit, and Garmin’s fitness trackers, Oura detects body temperature in addition to heart rate, heart rate volatility and respiratory rate.

The rollout comes as researchers are turning increasingly to wearable technologies to track the spread of the pandemic in real time, often before symptoms appear.

The Oura ring detects body temperature in addition to data gauged by other fitness devices

When a person is infected by coronavirus, the body’s efforts to fight back result in a series of patterns that the Oura ring can detect with “unparalleled” accuracy, said Dr Ali Rezai, director of the Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute at West Virginia University.

Dr Rezai has been conducting a study of 900 frontline workers over the past two months and determined that the Oura ring can detect the presence of the virus up to three days before symptoms appear.

“Studies show that two days before the first onset of any symptoms, you’re actually contagious and shedding the virus,” he said. Subtle changes in temperature, sleep patterns and heart rate detected by Oura “allow us to have a behind-the-scenes understanding of disease coming on, when it’s imperceptible [to] you”, he said.

The Oura ring’s Covid-19-detection capabilities were first discovered in March when a Finnish entrepreneur, Petri Hollmen, received an alert on the device’s app one morning that his “readiness level” was just 54, versus 80-90 on a typical day.

Having just travelled to Tyrol, Austria — then a coronavirus hotspot — he decided to get tested and was surprised when he received a positive result, despite not having experienced any symptoms.

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Dr Ben Smarr, a professor of data science at the University of California, San Diego, said research of more than 12,000 Oura users makes him “extremely confident” that wearers could arm themselves with useful data and build an early warning system for coronavirus.

To combat privacy concerns, the voluntary pilot at Sands will not allow the company to access employees’ metrics directly. Wearers will have real-time access to their own “Risk Score”, while Sands’ human resources team will only be alerted if an individual’s patterns indicate a high risk of developing Covid symptoms.

The hope is that the ring will help Sands to determine who should be advised to quarantine and get a test, given limited capacity to check every employee daily.

“The company will have access to one thing and one thing alone,” said Zac Hudson, Sands’ general counsel, referring to the company’s data gathering. Beyond that, “we don’t need that information and we don’t want it.”

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