• Elizabeth Jenkins

Can We Predict the Next Covid19 Hotspot in the US?

What would you do if you could know, just a few days earlier, that your location was about to be the next covid19 hotspot?

Kinsa Health is a small company that has created smart thermometers that are connected to the internet. The information collected has produced a useful dataset for predicting flu-like illnesses by time and location. Incredibly, they are finding that this same data may be able to identify emerging covid19 epicenters based on increased amounts of “atypical illnesses” seen in a particular area, at a particular time. By tracking real-time temperatures of people all over the US for several years, Kinsa is now able to distinguish between typical influenza-like respiratory illnesses and those which are atypical (beyond what’s generally seen in a particular location at that time each year).

Why does this matter? While Kinsa’s curve over time for atypical illnesses essentially follows the CDC curve for covid19 infections, there is one exception. Kinsa is identifying increased atypical illness a solid 1-2 days before CDC testing shows the corresponding increased number of positive covid19 tests in that area.

Just think about what our government leaders, health policy experts, the CDC, and we as individuals could do with an extra 2 days of warning? Perhaps we as individuals could make some changes in our behaviors such as increasing our commitment to social distancing; perhaps government leaders could begin preparations for the medical system overload that we know will follow in 2-3 weeks, by beginning to address known resource deficits in areas that will soon be disease epicenters, for example, creating overflow hospitals with ICU capabilities, bringing in ventilators and PPE, shifting to specific covid19 wards that are physically separate from other units; perhaps local government might tighten restrictions that support social distancing and flatten the curve, such as closing restaurants, bars, and tourist attractions. There are many possibilities.

Since learning about Kinsa, I’ve been watching my area on their health weather map ( I live in the Tampa Bay area in west central Florida. You may have seen some of our tourist-filled beaches on the news this week, a major social-distancing failure, before those beaches and bars were finally shut down on 3/20/20 at midnight. That was just last night.

Now here’s the interesting part. If you check the real time data on the Kinsa site, you may see an alarming red color that corresponds with high atypical illness levels..right in the Tampa Bay area.This suggests that we can expect the CDC to show a corresponding spike in covid19 positive tests in just a few days. Then, in 2-3 weeks, we can expect our medical system to become overwhelmed by demand for ICU beds, ventilators, and more PPEs.

So it may be worth asking ourselves, “what might we do differently, if we had just a little more time to prepare?” Kinsa is a small, Smart thermometer company that may have just provided us with those few extra days of preparation time. As our country struggles to cope with the rapid spread of covid19, Kinsa may deserve a little more of our attention.

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