The city of St. Augustine plans to give out 600 smart thermometers from Kinsa, a company that’s trying to stop the spread of contagious illnesses like COVID-19.
Kinsa founder and CEO Inder Singh said knowing when and where symptoms are spreading, and how fast they’re spreading, can help leaders make better public health decisions. Which is why Kinsa is trying to create a national outbreak detection and prediction system.
“I believe this is necessary and basic infrastructure for the country, and for other countries, so that we can prevent the next outbreak from becoming an epidemic, or god forbid, a pandemic,” Singh said during Monday’s St. Augustine City Commission meeting.
Tens of thousands of Kinsa thermometers are already in use around Florida and over a million have been distributed nationwide. Data gathered from these thermometers are being used to create a map, which shows where outbreaks are happening and that social distancing works.
“In Florida, we saw that fever levels were within normal expectation before March 1. Starting in early March, we saw those fever levels skyrocket. They went to more than double the level that you would normally expect them to be. That is a clear sign of an outbreak,” Singh explained. “Once restaurants and bars were closed - once City Manager John Regan, as well as the governor took certain actions, within three to seven days you saw fever clusters level off and start dropping towards zero.”
Right now, data is regionally specific in Florida. The state would need more thermometers to get county-by-county resolution.
“We know that something atypical is going on in Florida and we know that there's a particularly acute rise of an outbreak in southern Florida. It's true across the state, but it's particularly acute in southern Florida,” Singh told city commissioners. “But we do not have the resolution to go down to the kind of geographically precise level that is actually going to be useful for local reports. And that's one reason why I think this program that you're pursuing in St. Augustine is valuable.”
Once its 600 thermometers are distributed, St. Augustine will be the first community in the country to have more than 10% household penetration. Singh said that will help the city spot community spread illnesses, of all kinds, early.
The city plans to send email surveys and make phone calls to help determine recipients. Priority will be given to underserved communities, households of first responders, and large families. Thermometers will either be delivered to residents’ doorsteps or made available for pickup.
The pilot project is being spearheaded by City Manager John Regan, who has already used public funds to buy the smart thermometers – without a public bid.
“I’m moving forward with the plan,” he told city commissioners on Monday. “It’s always the prerogative of the City Commission to stop my actions. If you don’t stop my actions, I’m moving forward.”
“I certainly am supportive of the direction we’re going,” replied Mayor Tracy Upchurch – a sentiment echoed by members of the city commission.
The city is aiming to launch the project by April 22.