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Professional Sports, Wearable Health Devices, and COVID-19

By: Jess Barfield

Can UTK students stay healthy in the age of COVID-19 based on practices in professional sports? The answer may be “yes” and if so, UTK students should take note. In a time when many people have become less active due to social distancing and staying indoors, some people have become concerned that they are not active enough. In response, a recent trend is increased interest and use of wearable health devices due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 


But how do practices in professional sports fit in to a UTK student’s response to COVID-19? Consider this example: after playing the first round of a recent PGA tournament, a pro golfer woke up feeling fine. But when he checked the fitness tracker he wears on his wrist, he noticed an increase in his breathing rate when he had been sleeping. Since a change in breathing rate could be a sign of COVID-19, he decided to get tested for COVID-19 and the test came back positive. Soon after the positive test result, the PGA tour announced it would be distributing WHOOP bands to all players and caddies. Before the announcement, the NBA’s indicated  that it would be purchasing Oura Rings, another fitness tracker, to help NBA players in early detection of COVID-19. If professional athletes are using wearable fitness devices to stay healthy, why not college students and the general public?   

To encourage the usage of wearable health devices, we need to access current conversations about fitness devices in the backdrop of the corona virus. This is where the tools provided by the Adam Brown Social Media Command Center come into play.  Using the Command Center’s tools, I generated a word cloud to get a sense of the conversation concerning fitness devices and COVID-19 and in another search just using the words “wearable fitness device” alone. When looking at the word cloud for fitness devices alone, we see that COVID-19 is not currently prominent in the conversation. 


But this may change as more people become aware of how professional athletes are using wearable devices for early detection of the corona virus. Additionally, when the search is based on wearable fitness devices and COVID-19, the two words then become prominent in the conversation as do words associated with health in general.