COVID-19: Can Oura Rings That NBA Players May Wear Benefit College Athletes?

Jeff Faraudo

The NBA is bringing high tech to its battle against COVID-19. Players will be given the opportunity to wear Oura rings, which are created by a Finnish company and purported to predict signs of coronavirus three days in advance of the appearance of symptoms.

The Oura ring is made of titanium and is embedded with electronic devices designed to monitor the wearer’s heart rate, heart rate variability, respiratory rate and temperature to create a “Risk Score” that can help signal early onset signs of the virus, according to a story in Sports Illustrated.

Harpreet Rai told SI.com the NBA has ordered 2,000 of the rings for players to use in its Orlando, Fla., bubble when the season resumes later this month. “We’re convinced that it’s gonna be useful,” Rai said.

The Oura ring is designed by a Finnish company
Oura ring

In some ways, the Oura ring is similar to other wearable devices such as Fitbit. NBA player Kevin Love last year listed the device as one of 10 things he couldn’t live without, and it’s used by many people to monitor sleep patterns.

But can it really work to help predict COVID-19?

And could it be used by college athletes?

Let’s address the second question first. The Oura ring sells for $299, according to the company’s website, which means the NBA’s order of 2,000 would have cost about $600,000. For the NBA, that’s not an outrageous expense, especially if the league sees potential benefits.

Cal has approximately 850 male and female athletes, so the purchase of rings for each of them would run about $250,000. That’s not change an athletic director finds under his sofa cushion these days.

An athletic department spokesman said he is unaware of any discussions about Cal athletes possibly using the Oura ring.

Cost aside, there remain questions about the effectiveness of the Oura ring. UC San Francisco and the University of West Virginia both are studying the device’s effectiveness, and WVU’s Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute announced its findings in a news released on May 28:

“The holistic and integrated neuroscience platform developed by the RNI continuously monitors the human operating system, which allows for the accurate prediction of the onset of viral infection symptoms associated with COVID-19,” Ali Rezai, M.D., executive chair of the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute, said. “We feel this platform will be integral to protecting our healthcare workers, first responders, and communities as we adjust to life in the COVID-19 era.”

Others are waiting to jump on the bandwagon.

"There is not a lot of data on it right now,” Dr. Darria Long, an emergency room physician and clinical assistant professor at the University of Tennessee, told CNN in a story published a month later. “There have been some studies that I've seen -- most of the studies are published by the device manufacturers.”

Until and unless the Oura ring or any other device is proven effective, Long advises caution.

"Just don't let it give us a false sense of security,” she said. “Don't stop wearing your mask because your Oura ring says you're OK. You know, don't skip testing because everybody's Oura ring says they're fine.”

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