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Thermometer data: Florida social distancing efforts may have slowed coronavirus spread

The company can monitor fevers as they come in across the country, and may point to COVID-19
Kinsa Health, a smart thermometer company, has been tracking atypical illess and how it's changed. They think it may show spread of coronavirus decreasing
Kinsa Health, a smart thermometer company, has been tracking atypical illess and how it's changed. They think it may show spread of coronavirus decreasing [ Courtesy of Kinsa Health ]
Published Apr. 1, 2020

A company that uses smart thermometers to track atypical illnesses and fevers may be able to show coronavirus hot spots in real time — and their latest data says spread is decreasing because of social distancing.

Kinsa Health has given away millions of thermometers that instantly register high temperatures. In the past they’ve predicted areas hit hard by the flu before even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the New York Times. They’ve gotten nearly 162,000 daily readings since COVID-19 began spreading.

The company feels that though coronavirus numbers may continue to go up, the fact they’re registering less fevers shows real time spread is decreasing.

In Florida, illness over the past seven days has been decreasing by about 12 to 13 percent, said Nita Nehru, a spokeswoman for the company. She said the state is doing well, but that the decrease is coming down from a higher place than in other parts of the country where social distancing efforts were put in earlier, she said. The map, which tracks atypical illness from March 1, shows that Florida had a higher amount than California or Washington State.

“The one thing to note is that areas where aggressive social distancing measures were enacted early, we never saw illness get as high as we saw it get in parts of Florida and New York," she said.

Robyn Gershon, a clinical professor of epidemiology at New York University, said a lot of public health experts have been watching Kinsa Health’s data because it’s often a week or two ahead of the data reports they get.

“We’re all following it like crazy because they’re getting this data in real time,” she said. “They are on to something, it seems very very interesting.”

Experts say the effects of public health interventions like closing bars and restaurants shouldn’t show up in the data immediately. That’s because it can take days or weeks for a person with COVID-19 to start showing symptoms and even longer for the case to be counted in the state’s data.

Kinsa Health notes on their map that they expect the number of reported cases to continue to rise because of increased testing, but their own findings may show that the spread is slowing as illness levels decrease.

In other words, the curve may be flattening.

“You’ll see that illness levels are flat-lining now,” Nehru said. “They’re not continuing to decrease over the days, they’ve stayed pretty flat.”

Tampa Bay Times staff writer Kathleen McGrory contributed to this report.

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