How I tracked my COVID-19 infection with a Garmin Forerunner

I recently contracted the coronavirus. This is how I tracked the progression of the disease with a Garmin Forerunner and other wearable technology.

Who knew 2020 would turn out the way it did? Many of us will not be sorry to see the year behind us. Particularly now that there is hope of the mass distribution of a vaccine next year. Presumably there’s a good chance that life will return back to normal by next spring.

I was lucky to avoid contracting the coronavirus until a few days ago. The first wave came and went but the peak of the second wave caught me off guards.

Everything was fine until last Saturday. Even that day started off as usual. In the early afternoon I did a 3K run. The pace and finish time were where I expected them to be, although I did notice that I struggled a bit more than usual.

It was in the late afternoon that I started to feel sluggish. By the late evening, I felt as if I was Florida – and it was being hit by a hurricane!

I managed to get a couple of hours of sleep at the start of the night – but that’s about it. The rest of the night was spent tossing and turning – my body was in high gear.

My sports watch of choice is the Garmin Forerunner 935. I’ve had it for a number of years now and it rarely leaves my wrist. So far I have not felt the need to upgrade. As any wearable geek would see it, the coronavirus infection presented an ideal opportunity to follow the progression of the disease using wearable tech.

Coincidently, I was also testing a Zepp E at the time as well as the Honor Watch GS Pro. That is my job – usually I wear more than one fitness device.

In the morning I noticed that my resting heart rate was off the charts. Typically I range anywhere between 47 and 52-53bpm. It was 66bpm – about 15-20bpm above the usual value!

How I tracked my COVID-19 infection with a Garmin Forerunner
Day 0 | Day 1 | Day 2

Even more drastic were the stress levels. Take a look at the charts below. It was as if I was running the whole night rather than trying to get a good night’s rest.

How I tracked my COVID-19 infection with a Garmin Forerunner
Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

Interestingly, all three wearables pinned me at around similar levels. Which gives confidence as to the quality of their stress readings. The screenshot below shows the info generated by Zepp E and Honor Watch GS Pro (I took off Zepp E that first morning which is why the readings end).

How I tracked my COVID-19 infection with a Garmin Forerunner
Day 0 (Zepp E) | Day 0, Day 1 (Honor Watch GS Pro).

For those not in the know, smartwatches and fitness trackers typically measure stress by keeping tabs on heart rate variability (HRV). This measures the variation in the time interval between heartbeats. Unlike resting heart rate, the high the value the better.

High stress (HRV) could be down to physical effort or mental effort – your body can’t tell the difference. But the effect is the same – you are exhausted. This could be down to regular stress, sickness, lack of sleep or if you have been working out a bit too much. This is when it’s good to take some time to recover.

During the initial two days I kept an eye on the stress levels as they offered an unprecedented insight into how my body was fighting the virus. It was only after about 24 hours that the stress levels started to come down. By that time my body was exhausted – it was an effort lifting a spoon!

Thankfully, the second night the stress levels continued to decline, albeit gradually. It was only that following day (in the afternoon) that they returned to relatively normal levels. This is when I knew the worst of the disease was over. But if you can imagine the effects of being physically active for nearly 3 days – that is the feeling.

What I didn’t foresee, however, was the headache that would come after – and that lasted about 24 hours. It was perhaps the worst part of the experience – but there’s no way to track headaches with wearable tech. At least not yet!

Other technology I used to track the disease is the Withings Thermo. It doesn’t do anything fancy – the device just measures you temperature. But it does so effortlessly and in a matter of seconds. My temperature ranged between 37.4 and just over 38 celsius during the initial 24 hours. It only started to come down the second day. After day three it pretty much fell back to normal levels.

I am now in day 5 and my energy levels have returned, although they are still below normal. To make sure that all is ok I also checked my SpO2 at regular intervals. It is important to do this as the disease can spread to the lungs causing a significant fall in blood oxygen saturation.

For this purpose I used WAVE – a business-sized clinical grade ECG monitor. But you can use pretty much any pulse oximeter, as long as it’s precise. Multiple measurements had me pinned above 97% so I knew there was nothing to worry about. Anything above 95% is considered normal.

Perhaps I was lucky but the coronavirus infection is largely behind me now. The onset was sudden but so was the end.

Essential readingTop fitness trackers and health gadgets

Perhaps the virus has lost some of its strength in the second wave. There are many more cases now than in the first wave but fewer hospitalizations. Whatever the case, hopefully my experience will give you some ideas on how you can use wearable tech to keep tabs on your health.

Exciting times lie ahead. One can only imagine the types of insights we’ll have on the inner workings of our bodies a few years down the line.

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Ivan Jovin

Ivan has been a tech journalist for over 7 years now, covering all kinds of technology issues. He is the guy who gets to dive deep into the latest wearable tech news.

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