649th MUNS tests wearables to detect COVID-19

  • Published
  • By Cynthia Griggs
  • 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Airmen from the 649th Munitions Squadron at Hill Air Force Base are sporting a new smart watch and soon will add a smart ring that will alert them when they may be coming down with illnesses such as COVID-19 or other viral infections.

The unit is among the first in the U.S. Air Force and Air Force Materiel Command to be a part of a Defense Innovation Unit Research Program using the technology.

The watch and ring, from Garmin and Oura, respectively, detect biometric indicators such as respiratory rate, sleep data and heart rate data, while the watch has a pulse oximetry sensor, which measures blood oxygen, and the ring can track body temperature.

An algorithm called Rapid Analysis of Threat Exposure, built by the DIU, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and Philips Healthcare, analyzes the data from 165 biomarkers sent by the devices and attempts to recognize an infection or virus around 48 hours before the onset of symptoms.

According to Lt. Col. Naomi Franchetti, 649th MUNS commander, two “investigators” in the squadron will periodically check its Airmen’s RATE data on a secure website. “Our investigators check the website throughout the day looking for anything that could be concerning or trending,” Franchetti said. “If they see something, they will notify the Airmen, who also can see their scores, so we can segregate them from the rest of the squadron and potentially get them tested.”

Franchetti said investigators do not see names or specific data such as the person’s heart rate or temperature. However, if someone’s RATE score is trending upward, the investigators can then check the ID number for the name to notify the individual they are showing signs of illness. It won’t say what specific illness, just the likelihood of illness.

“It’s like a check engine light,” she said

Franchetti said she has been pushing for five months to purchase the wearables for her Airmen for COVID detection.  “Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown wants Air Force squadrons to ‘Accelerate Change or Lose,’ so this gives our squadron the ability to do that and be a part of rapid innovation for the next generation of Airmen,” she said.

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