NBA's summer COVID-19 protocols include Oura Rings for players

Quarantined basketball players will have the option to wear the smart rings for health tracking, and a "proximity alarm" that sounds when another wearer is too close for too long.
By Dave Muoio
11:59 am
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An unusual summer playoff format will once again have NBA superstars competing for their championship rings, but behind the scenes all players entering the Disney World "bubble" will have the option to monitor their via health sensor-laden smart rings, The Athletic reports.

Citing a health-and-safety manual distributed to players by the National Basketball Players Association, the sports publication described a list of precautions involving quarantine, testing, face masks, physical distancing and more.

Among that list was a note that players may choose to wear the Oura smart ring, a consumer device that monitors body temperature, blood-volume pulse, movement and sleep. The wearable feeds all of these readings through an accompanying app that uses artificial intelligence to generate insights and behavior-change suggestions for the user.

Of note, an ESPN writer describing the manual on Twitter stressed that each team's staff would not have full access to the health data collected through the rings. The exception is when the player's vitals register a high "illness probability score" calculated by the health-monitoring platform.

A representative for Oura declined to comment on its role in the league's safety protocols.

In addition to the rings, players will also have the option to wear a "proximity alarm" that's triggered when the wearer spends more than five seconds within six feet of another person wearing the alarm, according to The Athletic. These devices will be mandatory for all team and league staff.

WHY IT MATTERS

The NBA, like many others, is rewriting the rules of its business to mitigate infection risks. While these efforts will be largely dominated by traditional practices such as hand washing or social distancing, the need for unobtrusive health monitoring is an opportunity for wearables and similar digital health tools.

The Oura Ring's health-monitoring features have already been tapped for their potential in spotting early diseases. UC San Francisco kicked off a study in March that reviews Oura Ring user data to "identify patterns that could predict onset, progression, and recovery in future cases of COVID-19," while the West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute announced in late May that it had developed an artificial intelligence platform that uses the smart rings to spot symptoms related to COVID-19 three days prior to onset with 90% accuracy.

THE LARGER TREND

A handful of tech vendors have recently announced new products aimed at preventing workplace COVID-19 spread.

Yesterday Fitbit unveiled a device- and app-driven service called Ready for Work that focuses on daily health check-ins for employees and an analytics dashboard for their employers.

A week prior Zebra Technologies and VitalTech each unveiled digital health efforts featuring employee proximity and contact tracing, and on at-home symptom checking, respectively.

As for Oura, it was only a few months ago that the company announced a $28 million Series B funding round built on the back of 150,000-plus lifetime smart ring sales. The company's device is likely the best known consumer smart ring, having even adorned the finger of Prince Harry. And it has one less competitor to deal with following the recent acquisition and pivot of its fellow smart ring-maker Motiv.

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