How you can help build the fever map

Rich Kilmer is an old friend who runs CargoSense, a logistics company that gathers and analyzes data from sensors attached to products moving through supply chains. As the pandemic emerged he realized that one particular kind of sensor — the household thermometer used to measure human body temperature — was an underutilized source of crucial data. So the CargoSense team built TrackMyTemp, a web app you can use to provide a stream of anonymized temperature readings to the research community.

It’s dead simple to use. When you first visit the site it asks for your age and current temperature, invites you to activate a virtual thermometer, and prompts for the thermometer’s type (oral, forehead, ear). You also have to allow access to your location so your data can be geocoded.

After you report your first reading, you land on your “personal virtual thermometer” page which you’re invited to bookmark. The URL of that page encodes an anonymous identity. You revisit it whenever you want to contribute a new temperature reading — ideally always at the same time of day.

The precision of your location varies, Rich told me, to account for differences in population density. In a less populous area, an exact location could be a personally identifying signal, so the service fuzzes the location.

Why participate? The site explains:

An elevated temperature can be an indicator that your body is fighting off an infection. Some people contract COVID-19 but never know they have it, because other than a minor increase in temperature, they never show any other symptoms. As we isolate ourselves in our homes for physical distancing purposes we wonder what else we can do. Using this site is something we all can do to help epidemiologists better model how the virus is spreading. By copying your temperature from your physical thermometer into a virtual thermometer using this site, you will help to build a community, and national and global real-time datasets that will help researchers track and combat the spread of COVID-19. We do this while maintaining your privacy, and you only need your mobile phone and your existing thermometer to participate.

You may have seen reports about the Kinsa smart thermometer fever map, which seems to show fevers dropping as social distancing takes hold. This kind of data can help us monitor the initial wave of COVID-19 outbreaks, and could be a critical early warning system later this year as a second wave begins to emerge.

With TrackMyTemp you don’t need a smart thermometer, you can use the ordinary one you already have. I plan to keep one in my office, take a reading when I start my work day, and send the number to TrackMyTemp. If even a tiny fraction of the 128 million U.S. households got into the habit of doing this, we’d produce an ongoing stream of data useful to health researchers.

The best motivation, of course, is enlightened self-interest. So here’s mine. Until this week I can’t remember the last time I took my temperature. Knowing it on a daily basis could help me detect the onset of the virus and amp up my efforts to protect others from it.

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