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Bloomington schools test smart thermometers to track flu season in real time

Using Bluetooth technology, a child's fever can be recorded on your phone, through an app, and based on what symptoms parents voluntarily report, parents and educators can track illnesses.

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Bloomington Public Schools is the first school district in Minnesota to offer free smart thermometers to all students and families in its ten elementary schools, using technology as a tool to track the flu and other illnesses in real time.

Using Bluetooth technology, a child’s fever can be recorded on your phone, through an app, and based on what symptoms parents voluntarily report, parents and educators can track illnesses.

For example, at Hillcrest Elementary in Bloomington, where 175 students and families opted into the “FLUency” program, parents reported 11 children sick with fevers, runny noses, and coughs.

“We are looking at influenza possibly starting,” said Tina Akervik, Hillcrest’s health associate, who said as the school nurse, it helps her track trends in illnesses, but also helps her inform parents.

“The parents are going to be to see signs and symptoms of illnesses going around so they can keep their child home, just a lot easier,” said Akervik.

Julie Campanelli, a learning support specialist at the Bloomington district office, helps manage the one-year pilot program in the district and said the goal is to improve the health and attendance by giving parents a proactive tool.

“Just to make good health decisions, keeping kids home when they need to be home and sending kids to school when they need to be at school. Then our attendance is affected hopefully in a positive way,” said Campanelli.

Campanelli said the thermometer and app are all anonymous, confidential and protected from sharing student health data.

The manufacturer, Kinsa, issued a statement regarding how the FDA-cleared smart thermometer protects confidential information.

“We do not share an individual’s illness details with outside organizations and take great care to secure all of our user information. The illness readings we collect are associated with a geography and age group, but not a specific verified individual. We obscure our geolocation data to be compliant with state and federal regulations. We also do not collect a verified name, date of birth, street address, or other common personally identifiable information,” said the company, in an emailed statement.

“This is a good example about how protected it is, when we got all our thermometers in, we didn't even know who received our thermometers, we could not even request that from the manufacturer,” added Campanelli.

Kinsa teamed up with Lysol as a sponsor to offer 10,000 smart thermometers nationwide, otherwise the thermometers retail for about $20. The company’s technology was approved by the FDA in 2014 and Kinsa hopes to soon publish a study by outside experts assessing its accuracy in measuring the seasonal spread.

Across Minnesota, 15 schools are participating from Long Prairie, Eden Valley, Coleraine, Stillwater and St. Paul.

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