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New York Turns to Smart Thermometers for Disease Detection in Schools

  • June 13, 2021

The program is entirely voluntary, officials at both Kinsa and City Hall stress. Schools that opt into the program will send Kinsa’s brochures home to students’ families; if parents want to participate, they can download Kinsa’s app and order a free thermometer.

“There’s nothing about this program that is mandated,” Dr. Varma said. “Schools are not required to participate. Families are not required to participate, and of course they can kind of discontinue it at any time.”

The program — which is partly being funded by Lysol — will be free to schools and families.

Readings from the thermometers will be sent to the accompanying app, which also asks users to log any other symptoms they may be experiencing. Depending on what they report, the app may recommend that a child stay home from school, suggest a visit to the doctor or direct users to a nearby Covid testing site. School administrators and families can view information about grade-level trends at their own schools — that there are four ailing fourth-graders, for instance.

City health officials will also have access to this aggregated, anonymized data, which they hope will help them identify unusual illness clusters earlier than is currently possible. “It’s measuring something that we’ve never really been able to measure before,” Dr. Varma said. “This is information about people’s biological measurements, being taken by somebody in their home before they’ve actually, in many situations, sought care.”

If officials see an illness beginning to spread through a school, they could marshal a targeted response, Dr. Varma said — perhaps by doing some deep cleaning, temporarily closing a school building or helping students and staff members access care.

And while the rollout focuses on schools, Kinsa says that the system could benefit all New Yorkers. “The reason that we’re targeting elementary schools is because we know parents of elementary-age children are power users of thermometers,” said Nita Nehru, vice president of communications at Kinsa. “In a normal illness season, illness spreads rapidly within schools, and that’s where you want to start gathering data earlier, if you want to be able to stop the spread of illness more broadly.”

The data has limitations. Thermometers, of course, will not catch ailments that are not accompanied by fevers, and many cases of Covid, especially in children, are asymptomatic. Moreover, schools and families that opt into the program may not be representative of the city’s population at large.

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