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13 Las Vegas schools use smart thermometers to track COVID, flu

More than a dozen Las Vegas-area schools are using smart thermometers to track fever-related illnesses such as COVID-19 and the flu.

The campuses — within the Clark County School District, as well as public charter schools and day care centers — are among nearly 5,000 nationwide participating in Kinsa’s FLUency program.

This is the sixth year that Tate Elementary School in Las Vegas has been involved. Principal Sarah Popek said one of her kindergarten teachers learned about the program and approached her with the idea of participating.

“It’s just one more tool we can use to keep our staff and students safe and healthy at school,” she said.

Kinsa, a San Francisco-based medical technology company, aims to curb the spread of infectious illnesses through early detection and response, said Nita Nehru, Kinsa spokeswoman and FLUency founder.

This school year especially, as COVID-19 precautions are relaxing, the program can be critical from a public health perspective for helping families and schools stay a step ahead, she said.

It’s free for schools to sign up for FLUency, which is funded through a partnership with Lysol. Families at participating schools have the option of requesting a free Kinsa smart thermometer to use at home.

Kinsa hopes to expand the program soon to up to 3,000 more schools across the country.

A smartphone-connected thermometer has a medical triage feature that prompts families to answer questions about symptoms.

A phone app shows which symptoms have been reported within a school, such as three cases of a sore throat among second graders. There’s also an option for parents to self-report the diagnosis their child receives, such as the flu.

It’s a similar concept to parents talking to each other during school drop-offs and pick-ups about what illnesses are going around, Nehru said.

But data sent through the app is anonymous and aggregated, she said, so there’s no personally identifying information.

At Tate Elementary, which Popek said is a low-income school, some parents would bring a child who wasn’t feeling well to campus to get the child’s temperature taken because they didn’t have a thermometer at home.

Digital thermometers are expensive — especially high-quality ones, she said.

“A lot of our families use the ‘hand on the forehead’ test,” the principal said, noting that’s not reliable in Las Vegas, where warm weather can make children run hot.

Kinsa thermometers aren’t used on campus but are shipped to the school for families who request one. Then they are sent home.

Typically, about 100 Tate Elementary families choose to receive a thermometer each year — about 20 to 25 percent of the school’s enrollment, Popek said.

Last school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a huge increase in family opt-ins, she said, and she expects even more this year.

A large majority of the school’s employees are also participating, Popek said.

Back at Kinsa, the company once received a thank you email from a mother at a participating campus who said her son had a high fever and thanks to the app, she knew there were flu cases going around, Nehru said.

The mother took her son to a doctor, and he was prescribed Tamiflu early on, when it was most effective.

“I think that’s a perfect example of how this program can be valuable,” Nehru said.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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