The American Rescue Plan now needs smart strategies

In January, I wrote about the Biden Administration’s plan to “build back better” and what that would look like, in my view:

Helping communities across the country stay healthier, so we can reopen schools and businesses to get our economy back on track. We can achieve this by using real-time data to get ahead of the next epidemic — saving lives and livelihoods in the process.

I’m grateful that the American Rescue Plan (ARP) meaningfully funds and prioritizes these goals on two fronts. First, it provides significant resources to protect students, teachers and staff by curbing disease transmission in schools. Second, it encourages our public health systems to invest in early warning systems for contagious illness, so we can better prepare and respond to future outbreaks.

Kinsa is based on the premise that with real-time data on how illness starts and spreads, school leaders can make proactive decisions about opening, closing, and other policies, inspiring confidence that schools are safe. By helping families understand what’s going around, Kinsa’s FLUency program has for the past six years, reduced illness and absenteeism in thousands of public schools nationwide. During COVID-19, FLUency has helped schools safely reopen and stay open while laying the foundation to stop any future outbreaks or epidemics.. We do it in exactly the way the CDC recommends: by encouraging families to monitor their children for symptoms of infectious illness at home-based, providing guidance on how to get better and prevent transmission to others, and sharing information about community illness levels.

FLUency is in 4,000 schools across the country and, with the federal government’s leadership, there’s no reason why it can’t be in the 12,000 more that want to participate if funded, and many more. The public health benefits of deploying FLUency on a nationwide scale are clear.

But there is more that we can do, and we now have the opportunity. The ARP includes nearly $50 billion for COVID-19 mitigation and improving our resilience to pandemic threats. The CDC addresses this head on by funding a new Epidemic Forecasting Center. Additionally, part of this funding goes to “develop[ing] effective disease response strategies based on genomic sequencing and surveillance data.” Although catching new disease variants and sequencing emerging epidemics is crucial, without the proper foundation in place it’s like searching for a needle in a haystack.

Our genomics experts must first know where to look. Kinsa’s network of 2.5 million smart thermometers can give clues, providing up to three weeks advance warning for COVID-19 and up to 20 weeks for flu at the city level. Because products like smart thermometers are used within hours of symptom onset, well before an individual talks to a doctor or seeks care, the data gleaned provides far earlier insights than existing public health systems. This is even more impactful because Kinsa reaches underserved communities through the FLUency program — frontline workers, multigenerational families, and those more likely to lack insurance and thus be less likely to get tested.

An early warning system for spreading illness empowers experts to find novel outbreaks sooner and take action. By helping genomicists focus their efforts — rather than wasting valuable time and resources blindly testing samples — can accelerate the process of identifying new illnesses, managing existing ones, and developing treatments and vaccines. The ability to move from epidemic identification to pathogen identification within days will save lives.

This is the type of investment in public health infrastructure that President Biden and supporters of the ARP in Congress envision. However, it can only become a reality if our public health leaders — in particular, the CDC — are willing to work with private sector innovators to put these tools to use. More than ever, we need public-private partnerships that leverage private infrastructure for the public good — and a strategy for sharing the best information about spreading illness so that we can prevent small outbreaks from becoming global pandemics.

We’re finally willing to invest in modernizing public health. Now we just need to pick smart strategies.

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Inder Singh is the founder & CEO of Kinsa. Kinsa’s mission is to stop the spread of contagious illness through early detection & early response. kinsahealth.com

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Inder Singh

Inder Singh

Inder Singh is the founder & CEO of Kinsa. Kinsa’s mission is to stop the spread of contagious illness through early detection & early response. kinsahealth.com

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