Tuesday, March 30, 2021 | 2 a.m.
A cutting-edge, noninvasive wearable device that can detect silent symptoms of potential COVID-19 infection got federal approval this month thanks in part to a small Las Vegas private school.
Over three to five minutes, the embedded sensors on the Tiger Tech COVID Plus Monitor externally pick up biometric signals from the body, looking for patterns associated with the disease such as hypercoagulation, a condition causing blood to clot more easily than normal. Painlessly and with high accuracy, it keeps students and staff at The Meadows School in their familiar classrooms and playing the sports they enjoy.
The armband device, about the size of a deck of card, is whisper-light, silent and smooth to the touch, and has been used thousands upon thousand of times just among the student-athletes at The Meadows School.
Before The Meadows Mustangs football team last week played Lake Mead Christian Academy, 26 members of the varsity squad filed into the gym, kept their masks on but rolled up their sleeves and donned the devices. All were cleared to play.
If Dawson Levine, a freshman running back, was casual about the procedure, it’s because he has plenty of experience. He estimated he’s taken the test about 50 times, and has always gotten the green light.
“I know I don’t have COVID, I know my friends don’t have COVID,” he said. “It makes it a nice, relaxing day at school.”
The Summerlin private school was one of the few valley schools to resume in-person learning last fall when it brought its students back not just on-campus but full-time. It did so with a commitment to extensive testing and screening.
The school also does temperature checks every morning and tests for the virus weekly with a diagnostic saliva test, using the pool testing format developed by Las Vegan Prem Premsrirut and her New York-based biotech company. Early in the year, the school also ran twice-weekly nasal swab tests, the more-common, traditional test that Meadows athletic director Claude Grubair admitted was “brutal.”
But with the COVID Plus Monitor, “it’s like putting on a Fitbit,” he said.
The device’s journey to Vegas was serendipitous. Grubair has friends in Miami who were part of the device’s development, and when they needed to populate a case study, they reached out. Tiger Tech also worked with a hospital and a homeless shelter in Miami to gather data.
Jeremy Gregersen, head of school at The Meadows, said he wanted to be part of a real-world solution.
“We felt that the device, being non-invasive and incredibly accurate, could be a game-changer for keeping kids in school both on our campus and around the world,” Gregersen wrote in an email.
Tiger Tech sent a few devices to Las Vegas and the school put them into their testing and screening regimen in July, establishing a baseline before the school year started. The school has eight devices in rotation — all of which were received at no cost when the school participated in the study.
School athletic trainer Kim Jacobs straps the monitor device on every athlete before every practice and game — it’s a plentiful sample, as most Meadows high schoolers play at least one sport, Grubair said.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which issued emergency use authorization for the device on March 19, the hospital study examined 467 asymptomatic individuals, including 69 confirmed positive cases. The results showed that the monitor correctly identified 98.6% of positive cases and 94.5% of negative cases. The school study showed similar performance, the FDA added.
“We see this as a game-changer,” Tiger Tech CEO Harrison Wittels said in a statement. “Right now, the goal is to get everyone back to their daily routines. This means more people back at work, more students safely back in schools, and more opportunities to travel. We believe our device can play a major role in allowing this transition to happen quicker, and most importantly, safer.”
In more technical terms, the FDA explains further:
“The sensors first obtain pulsatile signals from blood flow over a period of three to five minutes. Once the measurement is completed, the processor extracts some key features of the pulsatile signals, such as pulse rate, and feeds them into a probabilistic machine-learning model that has been trained to make predictions on whether the individual is showing certain signals, such as hypercoagulation in blood.”
If all that is dense, at least the bottom line is easy: If an indicator lights up red, the student is advised to get tested to confirm diagnosis. If it’s green, they’re presumed good to go.
“I don’t ever want to see a red on this,” Jacobs said Friday as she gathered up her devices.
She was, of course, pleased to not get a single red that day. She knows parents are assured by the screeners, too, along with the students.
“It gives the kids a sense of relief,” she said. “They can go and play and not worry about anything.”