Oakland University plans to use the “BioButton” on campus to track COVID-19 symptoms

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Oakland University is implementing this month a wearable health monitoring device, becoming the first university in the U.S. to do so.

The “BioButton,” made by BioIntelliSense Inc., is a wearable device that sticks to the upper-chest and collects heartbeat, respiratory rate and temperature every few minutes.

David Stone, chief research officer at Oakland University, and a group of researchers began looking for ways to screen or detect COVID-19 early since the outbreak began. They looked into devices such as the Oura Ring and Fit Bit, but there was little to no testing done on them. After learning that the BioButton had begun testing, the university started to explore it more and began talking to the company.

This device was used by frontline workers early in the pandemic, many of whom contracted COVID-19, to develop an algorithm to learn whose data was leaning toward COVID-19 and whose wasn’t.

“That is what we are hoping to use,” Stone said. “A mechanism that can pick up the potential at least, for COVID-19 Infections before it’s detectable by any other kind of test.”

Oakland University’s plan

Masks and social distancing are ways to limit the spread of COVID-19, however, Oakland University’s hope for the BioButton is to alert students and staff days before testing positive, Stone said.

“If we get a case in say a dorm, we want to prevent that from becoming 50 cases in a weekend,” Stone said. “If the BioButton manages to alert us early, we can isolate that student before they could even be tested positive for it.”

The university plans to encourage use of the “BioButton” to all of those on campus, targeting athletes, staff and residence hall students, who would be susceptible to an outbreak.

Junior Ollie Updike, is a part of the cross country team at the university. Updike said  she first heard about the “BioButton” a few months ago. 

“I first heard about it in the summer,” Updike said. “At that time, the university was trying to make it required, but there was a petition on Twitter that got enough signatures saying we didn’t want to be required to wear it. However, I would wear it if it ensures us being able to practice.” 

Junior Ollie Updike showing her Oakland University Cross Country uniform. Credit: Ollie Updike

This device is still not available to the public but, as of now, the university hopes to have them available by mid-October.

Existing precautions

The BioButton is not the only way Oakland University has planned to limit the spread of COVID-19. The university requires each student to take a health screening before entering campus, said junior Ethan Tiong.

“The health screening has us list our name, email and phone number to contact us as well as ask us to follow social distancing rules, to wear our masks, our current health conditions and if we have come in contact with anyone that contracted COVID,” said Tiong.

The number of health assessments cleared and not cleared since September 23rd. Credit: Molly Gundry

Oakland University has been successful in their combat against COVID-19, with only 55 confirmed cases since July 12.