Wearables and Covid – Can Your Watch Identify Sickness Before a Test?

Even before the 2020 pandemic wearable devices were making waves for their ability to identify and play a part in diagnostics and large scale events. When COVID began to spread though, there were many anecdotes of people identifying the early signs of symptoms using their daily worn devices. As early as June 2020, Whoop was making waves with Covid and their anecdotes of employees who were working from home catching signs and this eventually resulted in real peer reviewed published studies.

The markers that were used to identify early Covid are not that complex. For Whoop it started with elevated respiratory rates, which is a metric that many wearables track. As time went on and more work was done additional studies have been published that linked wearable device data to early signs of Covid.

We are not reviewed published researchers here at PWT, but we have strived to find the best and most relevant studies that link Covid to wearables.

apple watch oura and whoop logos

Studies Linking Covid Symptoms to Wearables:

Whoop raised respiratory rates linked to Covid. This makes sense since a respriatory rate can easily link to one of the common symptoms of “shortness of breath”, but an increase earlier in the process is great to understand. (PLOS Paper, Dec 2020)

Heart Rate Variabitliy, a measure that is read by Apple Watch, Whoop, and others, is another good option for identifying signs of Covid. (JMIR Publications, Jan 2021)

Additional tests looked further at multiple signals. These include respiratory rate (RR), heart rate (HR), HR variability (HRV), wrist-skin temperature (WST). The exciting part of this study is that it is able to identify issues prior to other symptoms. The journal notes this as “presymptomatic” but of course if you can tell then it’s hard to say it’s “pre” anything. This journal looked at FitBit users. BMJ Open, April 2022).

Sleep and Activity data does not seem to differ or be a good predictor for Covid early detection, according to one Nature paper. This combined self reported symptoms to suggest that there is a decent chance that the combination of wearable data along with being atuned to your body may be able to predict Covid as well as other tests. The DETECT study used FitBit users who opted in but could also extend to other relevant trackers (Nature, 2021).

The Oura ring, which is worn on a finger, also tracks many similar markers as other studies. Similar to Whoop they started early, as early as March 2020, in looking at links from the data they collected to Covid detection. One addition from the Oura ring was continuous temperature monitoring. This links directly to fever symptoms. (Nature, 2020)

Sleep trackers seem to be another potential way to identify early sickness. This is in part because various metrics shift overnight and during deep sleep. For FitBit Charge users one study looked at normalizing heart rate data against normal fluctuations in heart rate throughout the day, further showcasing the potential for resting heart rate data to be a predictor (Cell Reports Medicine, 2021).