A new initiative launched last week in New York's Capital District will get thermometers to organizations such as homeless shelters and food pantries to better track COVID-19.
Alliance for Better Health wants to distribute approximately 7,500 smart thermometers to community-based organizations in Albany and the surrounding areas.
Approximately 35 organizations are benefitting from the program, including regional hospitals.
The thermometers, produced by Kinsa Health, are internet-connected and include a patient-facing mobile app that prompts users to enter symptoms they may be experiencing. The app also provides basic advice on whether the patient should seek medical attention.
Food Pantries for the Capital District, which provides groceries to those in need, said it was planning to deliver the thermometers it received to local pantries.
The Altamont Program, which provides residential services to hundreds of people throughout the Capital District, is receiving 700 thermometers, according to Altamont COO Peter Kelsey. He said the thermometers will be a valuable tool for both Altamont's employees and clients and will give peace of mind to the heads of households and their children, especially those in homeless shelters.
WHY IT MATTERS
Alliance CEO Jacob Reider said many of the community-based organizations partnering with Alliance say thermometers are hard to come by during the pandemic, which has broadly led to a shortage of supplies like personal protective equipment and tools for tracking symptoms.
COVID-19 has no vaccine or cure, and fever is considered one of the symptoms highly associated with the disease. Reider said Alliance's new initiative will help people understand their symptoms sooner.
Some of the thermometers will go directly to the underserved, which Reider said includes those on Medicaid and who lack insurance. However, Reider said most of the thermometers will go to workers in the community-based organizations so they can continue providing valuable social support, helping social and behavioral health service organizations protect themselves and those they serve.
Dr. Jenifer Leaf Jaeger, senior medical director of HealthEC, is the former director of the Infectious Disease Bureau and director of Population Health for the Boston Public Health Commission.
Jaeger has experience in trying to curb infectious disease such as HIV among the homeless population.
It's important to try to control the spread of the coronavirus among the homeless, because in encampments where they live, the disease can easily spread and there's no way to quarantine individuals.
The best solution is to get people off the streets and into shelters, and to keep COVID-19 from spreading there.
"As we control the spread of disease of shelter individuals, we're less of a risk to the unsheltered," Jaeger said.
Because the population is tough to track, there's not much data on the homeless population when it comes to COVID-19, she said. Testing has been limited.
Alliance said the thermometer initiative will help public health leaders track the overall spread of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The smart thermometers will also provide insight into the disease's spread. They are able to upload users' anonymized and non-identifiable temperature readings to a central database, which enables the company to map the prevalence and severity of fevers in the region and across the country.
Natasha Pernicka, executive director of Food Pantries for the Capital District, said the thermometers will help officials predict the potential spread of COVID-19 in real time by recording fevers as soon as they are experienced. They will also give her organization a heads-up on areas that may need their services the most, as she said there is a correlation between who are food insecure and COVID-19 vulnerability.
THE LARGER TREND
The COVID-19 pandemic has spread to all 50 states and has recently grown to more than 1 million cases nationwide.
FOR THE RECORD
"What makes Alliance for Better Health's mission-based model work is the fact that all of us-- behavioral health providers, managed care organizations, medical care provider organizations, and social care providers--are all in this together," Reider said. "The work we are doing for people may have changed a bit in light of COVID-19--but what hasn't changed is our combined commitment to address social needs before they turn into medical problems so that we can build health equity for all."
Max Sullivan is a freelance writer and reporter who, in addition to writing about healthcare, has covered business stories, municipal government, education and crime. Twitter: @maxsullivanlive firstname.lastname@example.org
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