The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), working in collaboration with the Defense Innovation Unit, is seeing promising early results for pre-symptomatic detection of COVID-19 among personnel.

Speaking during the FCW Health IT Workshop today, Chief of the Digital Battlespace Management Division Dr. John Hannan provided an update on DTRA’s Rapid Analysis of Threat Exposure (RATE) wearable technology that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to provide early warning of infection.

The process for RATE includes having the wearables collect temperature readings, oxygen saturation, respiration levels, and heart rate metrics of the wearer. As required, the users will verify that each device is uploading data to the device’s app daily. A RATE score is then updated for the user, as well as the coordinator. If a RATE score is high, the individual can be isolated, testing can be prioritized, and the individual can be isolated until the RATE score decreases to baseline, no symptoms are shown, and testing is conclusively negative.

“We have over 5,000 kits that are deployed to a number of cohorts [and] we have about a dozen cohorts right now – the largest being at the Military Academy at West Point and at the Naval Academy,” Dr. Hannan said. “So, between those two, that makes up the bulk of what we have fielded.”

According to Dr. Hannan, the RATE technology has shown some predictive value and compared well to other diagnostic tests. Hannan says that DTRA is working to operationalize RATE and “get this out there” for Defense Department (DoD) personnel to sign up and participate. So far, it has only been used in a hospital setting.

The current benefits of the program include limiting the spread of COVID-19, and monitoring the readiness of personnel. Three to six months following the RATE implementation, data will allow commanders the option to reduce days in self-isolation prior to going to alert, which will greatly reduce risk to the mission while improving readiness levels and decreasing personnel redundancies. It also will allow for fighting the illness when individuals have high scores rather than waiting until symptoms appear. And lastly, it can provide for earlier identification of other communicable illnesses, such as influenza and the common cold.

“The things that we’re seeing right now is there are challenges when you move something out of a clinic or a hospital,” Hannan mentioned in discussing the obstacles of RATE. “Obviously, the pristine environment is gone and some of the high-quality information was gone. So, I think the big challenges are missing data, these things aren’t perfect.”

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.