After reading my post on Oura and West Virginia University’s terribly misleading press releases which imply the Oura ring sleep tracker can serve as a “critical decision making tool to help contain the spread of the virus, safely re-open communities, strengthen the economy, and facilitate public health containment strategies”, Crystal Phend Senior Editor at MedPageToday asked me to comment on the other COVID-19 studies that Oura has been publicizing recently.
Through news media, Oura has attempted to convince the public that the NBA is relying on the Oura ring to restart its season.
The NBA Efforts To Restart Amid COVID-19
If you’d like to read a well-researched and balanced article on the NBA’s testing efforts related to COVID-19, I suggest you start with Ryan Basen’s July 16 MedPageToday article. Basen’s article discusses a Mayo clinic/NBA antibody testing study and a Yale/NBA saliva study in detail.
However, readers are much more likely to encounter clickbait headlines like this one which appeared on SI.com
Pickman’s article begins with this confusing and horribly misleading paragraph
Despite Harpreet Rai’s favorite childhood NBA team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, not appearing in the league’s restart, Rai, the CEO of Oura, will be watching the resumption as intently as anyone. Amid the NBA’s thorough 100-plus page health and safety manual is a section on wearable devices, and though the Oura ring isn’t explicitly mentioned in the exhaustive memo, the company has partnered with the league and the ring could potentially be one of the most important technological devices found across the ESPN Wide World of Sports campus.
The bulk of the information in Pickman’s article supporting the idea that the Oura ring is useful in early detection of COVID-19 or that the NBA will be relying on it in anyway to mitigate COVID-19 spread comes from the mouth of Harpreet Rai, the Oura CEO. Similar to the WVU press release, this article reads like a plug for Oura.
The NBA/Oura connection was first reported by CNBC on June 17
According to the NBA’s health and safety memo for the restart of the season, which was obtained by CNBC, residents will receive a “smart” ring, a Disney MagicBand, individual pulse oximeter and a smart thermometer to help monitor and reduce the spread of the coronavirus. The league is also investigating the implementation of a wearable alarm to help players and staff adhere to social distancing.
CNN quotes the ring portion of the memo verbatim:
“To promote efforts to identify potential illness, upon arrival on the campus, each player and essential staff member will be given the option to participate in a process that uses a wearable device (worn as a ring) being studied and validated by the University of Michigan to generate a wellness assessment derived from metrics such as body temperature and respiratory and heart rate. The NBA will share additional details regarding the device and process for participation in a forthcoming memo to teams,”
This appears to be the only solid information from the NBA on the topic.
I have been unable to find any information on University of Michigan involvement with Oura or the NBA.
However, Oura CEO Rai was quick to spread misinformation about the importance of the Oura ring.
He appeared on a June 23 “Squawk Box.” interview.
CNBC’s online article related to that interview implies Oura ring accuracy has been proven by “researchers.”
“It started with our users,” Harpreet Rai, chief executive officer of Oura, said in a “Squawk Box” interview. “One user of ours in Finland was traveling in early March. His scores were normally in the 80s or 90s and he noticed his readiness score dropped to 50 and that caused him to get tested. He was positive for coronavirus.”
The Oura ring costs upwards of $300 and measures and logs data ranging from sleep and body temperature to heart rate and respiratory function. Researchers said the device has been successful in recognizing Covid-19 symptoms up to three days in advance with 90% accuracy.
The 90% accuracy statement links back to the Oura ring article/WVU press release I described in detail in my previous post which states without any supporting data, references or hyperlinks the following:
The RNI platform uses the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute app, the Oura Ring, and artificial intelligence (AI)guided models to forecast and predict the onset of COVID-19 related symptoms (e.g. fevers, coughing, breathing difficulties, fatigue, and others) three days in advance with over 90 percent accuracy.
The Oura CEO went on to state that the NBA has ordered lots of Oura rings but its not clear from his phrasing if they paid for them:
As the NBA heads to Walt Disney World in Florida, the league is making available a host of technological bells and whistles to both players and staff including the Oura ring. Rai said the league has ordered more than 1,000 Oura rings. “They felt like giving the players and staff an added rate of protection and frankly peace of mind,” he told CNBC.
Strangely enough the NBA twitter account announced the NBA connection to Oura by referring to that CNBC article and starting off with what I now term the “Oura Big Lie.”
NBA players will wear a ‘smart ring’ at Disney world, per https://t.co/UCLdrFVMWo
The Oura smart ring is capable of predicting COVID-19 symptoms up to 3 days in advance with 90% accuracy. The ring can measure body
temperature, respiratory functions and heart rate. pic.twitter.com/pYYIqOLDbZ
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) June 18, 2020
If you read my first piece on Oura and COVID-19 you know that there is no data proving that the Oura ring has any accuracy in diagnosing COVID-19 but the accuracy claim is something Oura would love to spread around.
Oura Ring , the NBA and Covid-19
To summarize the key points in this analysis.
-The Oura ring is not the key to the NBA restarting. It is probably less important than the Disney MagicBand, individual pulse oximeter and smart thermometer NBA players were issued. It is definitely less important than frequent COVID-19 testing.
-NBA players were offered Oura rings and allowed to participate in data gathering but there is nothing to suggest the NBA is using that data to “mitigate the spread of COVID-19”
-The University of Michigan was mentioned in the NBA health memo but details of any study are unavailable..
-Sports Illustrated, CNBC, and many other media outlets have spread dangerously misleading information touting unproven Oura ring capabilities, most of which emanates from the CEO of Oura, Harpreet Rai.
-Readers, patients, and consumers should understand that they cannot rely on the Oura ring or any wearable medical device to reliably predict the development of COVID-19.