August 1, 2020 

Oura CEO talks partnership with the WNBA

WNBA players and staff will be able to wear Oura’s “smart rings” to monitor their health and potential COVID-19 symptoms.

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The WNBA announced a partnership with Oura on Thursday, allowing players and staff to use the Oura ring to monitor their health.

Currently at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida for the 2020 season, WNBA players and staff will be able to wear Oura “smart rings” to monitor their health and any potential COVID-19 symptoms, the league announced Thursday.

“Protecting the health of players as well as team and league staff is paramount,” said WNBA Chief Operating Officer Christy Hedgpeth in the press release. “Because players and staff will have the option to access additional personal health monitoring, the use of Oura Rings will further expand the league’s comprehensive safety and testing procedures for the 2020 season.”

The WNBA’s 24th season tipped off on July 25 and is set to continue until October with a condensed regular season schedule. Once all players and staff arrived at the single-site location in Bradenton earlier this month, they were required to self-isolate for four days and get tested daily for the coronavirus. In accordance with the league’s protocol, players have been tested regularly in the “wubble,” and no player has tested positive since successfully exiting the initial quarantine period. Though, Aces point guard Lindsey Allen missed Friday’s game due to an “inconclusive positive result.”

Players and staff in Bradenton can opt to use the Oura rings and track their data in the Oura mobile app. The Oura rings monitor body temperature, respiratory rate, heart rate and heart rate variability to provide users with a “readiness score,” which indicates their overall health and can even help recognize signs of a potential illness. Additionally, players have been able to use Kinsa Smart Thermometers to take their temperature each day and track any changes using the Kinsa app.

The NBA, whose season is being played in Orlando, announced similar partnerships with Oura and Kinsa in late June. Any personal health data gathered by the smart devices and stored in their respective apps will not be available to teams unless players require further medical review.

“I think those leagues are first class and, frankly, how they think about their players and health and safety is the main thing,” Oura CEO Harpreet Singh Rai told The Next. “And they’ve been doing research on these devices for a while, and I think they’ve found one that met their criteria for what they’re looking for in terms of accuracy, use case and ability to deal with it in a privacy-forward manner. So I would just say I’d applaud the league for doing everything they can for players and staff to keep them safe.”

The Oura ring was initially developed as a tool to help users understand their overall health by tracking and improving their sleep. But once the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., the company decided to conduct research on the ring’s ability to detect early symptoms of the virus. A study conducted with the West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute found that the Oura ring, along with the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute app, predicted “the onset of COVID-19 related symptoms three days in advance with over 90 percent accuracy.”

The NBA’s wearable research committee saw the research and began discussions with Oura and the WNBA, Rai says, which led to a partnership between the wearable tech company and the two leagues.  

Oura has seen a wave of enthusiasm for its smart ring during the global health crisis, with people especially eager to track any signs of illness to maintain peace of mind.

“I think that’s just something that people are going to have a heightened sensitivity to for a long time now, just given the magnitude of what’s gone through the country,” Rai said.

Oura can also help players recognize patterns in their recovery, sleep and performance, and players and staff may wish to continue to use the smart rings once their seasons conclude. As far as how the technology can continue to be used in sports once the pandemic ends, Rai thinks it can help stop the spread of other strains of the flu by informing users of their symptoms.

Influenza has resulted in between 12,000 to 61,000 deaths in the U.S. every year since 2010, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection

“If you had an early alert that you may be getting sick and you take rest, you’d get better and not spread it around,” Rai said. “Even if it’s not the COVID strand of flu, but your regular one or whatever it might be. So I think this is going to change the way we, as a society, think about getting sick and how to take rest and not try to power through and go into the office or go into the locker room.”

Written by Bela Kirpalani

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