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Mount Sinai study finds Apple Watch can predict COVID-19 diagnosis up to a week before testing

A new study from Mount Sinai researchers published in the peer-reviewed “Journal of Medical Internet Research” found that wearable hardware, and specifically the Apple Watch, can effectively predict a positive COVID-19 diagnosis up to a week before current PCR-based nasal swab tests.

The investigation dubbed the “Warrior Watch Study,” used a dedicated Apple Watch and iPhone app and included participants from Mount Sinai staff. It required participants to use the app for health data monitoring and collection, and also asked that they fill out a day survey to provide direct feedback about their potential COVID-19 symptoms and other factors, including stress.

During the course of the study, the research team enlisted “several hundred healthcare workers” to participate, and collected data over several months, between April and September. The primary biometric signal that the study’s authors were watching was heart rate variability (HRV), which is a key indicator of strain on a person’s nervous system. This information was combined with information around reported symptoms associated with COVID-19, including fever, aches, dry cough, gastrointestinal issues, and loss of taste and smell, among others.

The Warrior Watch Study was not only able to predict infections up to a week before tests provided confirmed diagnoses, but also revealed that participants’ HRV patterns normalized fairly quickly after their diagnosis, returning to normal roughly one to two weeks following their positive tests.

As to what the study could lead to in terms of actual interventions, the study’s authors note that it can help anticipate outcomes and isolate individuals from others who are at risk. Most importantly, it provides a means for doing so remotely, allowing caregivers to anticipate or detect a COVID-19 case without even doing a physical exam or administering a nasal swab test, which can help take precautionary measures in high-risk situations when cases are suspected, possibly preventing any spread before someone is highly contagious.

The study is ongoing and will expand to examine what else wearables like the Apple Watch and their onboard sensors can tell us about other impacts of COVID-19 on the health of care workers, including what factors like sleep and physical activity can have in association with the disease.

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