Yale Researchers Develop Wearable COVID-19 Virus Detector

Knowing if you have been exposed to the coronavirus could one day be as easy as wearing a clip-on accessory. Researchers at Yale University have developed an easy-to-use device that clips on to your clothing and is able to identify even low levels of the virus in the air around you. It is still in the testing stage, but it could become available for consumer use in the near future.

According to USA Today, the scientists published their findings this month in the peer-reviewed online journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters. They pointed out that “exhaled respiratory droplets and aerosols can carry infectious viruses and are an important mode of transmission for COVID-19.” But actively assessing the environment consistently for airborne SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can be cumbersome and costly.

Researchers developed a passive way of sampling the environment by using polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) to assess personal exposure to the virus and embedded it into a wearable device called the Fresh Air Clip. It’s a 3D-printed air sampler that doesn’t need a power source. It collects samples of air on a film inside its 1-inch badge-shaped face with a prominent “Y” on the front.

“The Fresh Air Clip is a wearable device that can be used to assess exposure to SARS-CoV-2 in the air,” said the study’s author and chip creator Krystal Godri Pollitt, assistant professor of epidemiology at Yale University School of Public Health. According to a press release, Godri Pollitt explains that the Fresh Air Clip is an important weapon in the COVID-19 battle.

“With this clip we can detect low levels of virus that are well below the estimated SARS-CoV-2 infectious dose,” she said. “The Fresh Air Clip serves to identify exposure events early, alerting people to get tested or quarantine. This clip is intended to help prevent viral spread, which can occur when people do not have this kind of early detection of exposure.”

According to USA Today, researchers instructed 62 study participants to wear the clip between January and May 2021in various environments ranging from restaurants to healthcare facilities. After the clip was worn for five consecutive days the film inside the device was checked for the presence of the virus. Researchers found evidence of COVID-19 in five clips — four worn by restaurant workers and one by a person working in a homeless shelter. Fortunately, the levels found were well below the amount that causes infection.

The Fresh Air Clip is currently being used in other studies and Godri Pollitt hopes to make the clips available to the public in the future.

“The Fresh Air Clips are easy-to-use, non-invasive, and low-cost,” she said. “These features make it easier to scale-up this kind of monitoring for COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases so that the clips can be made available across larger groups of workers in high-risk jobs, such as restaurant servers, healthcare workers, and teachers.”

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