COVID-19 detector: Wearable ‘Fresh Air Clip' can detect virus, study finds

A new, wearable device may help alert you if you are exposed to COVID-19. 

Researchers at the Yale School of Public Health developed an easy-to-clip-on device that can help detect low levels of SARS-COV-2 and subsequently whether a person has been exposed. 

According to the study, published Jan. 11 in a peer-reviewed online journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters, the device captures virus-laden aerosols that deposit on a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) surface. 

The team tested the air sampler in a rotating drum, in which they generated aerosols containing a surrogate virus with similar properties to SARS-CoV-2. This allowed the researchers to detect the virus on the sampler to estimate airborne virus concentrations.


Image of Fresh Air Clip (Credit: Yale School of Public Health/Krystal Godri Pollitt)

"With this clip we can detect low levels of virus that are well below the estimated SARS-CoV-2 infectious dose," Krystal Godri Pollitt, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Yale, said in a press release. "The Fresh Air Clip serves to identify exposure events early, alerting people to get tested or quarantine. The clip is intended to help prevent viral spread, which can occur when people do not have this kind of early detection of exposure.

In further testing, the sampler was embedded in a wearable clip design and distributed to community members across Connecticut to survey personal exposure to the virus. 

According to the study, the virus was detected on clips worn by five of the 62 participants (8%), predominantly in indoor restaurant settings, for five consecutive days. 

"Our findings demonstrate that PDMS-based passive samplers may serve as a useful exposure assessment tool for airborne viral exposure in real-world high-risk settings and provide avenues for early detection of potential cases and guidance on site-specific infection control protocols that preempt community transmission," the study authors wrote.


Photo of Fresh Air Clip attached to shirt. (Credit: Krystal Pollitt)

Recently, similar, but larger, devices have been developed to detect virus particles in the air. 

In August, Opteev — a virus screening technology company — announced the launch of the first-ever plug-in screening device to detect airborne COVID-19 particles in indoor spaces. 

"We’ve been working on it for a while, and the need is so huge, especially with people now returning to school, people returning to the office," Conrad Bessemer, chairman and co-founder of Opteev, told FOX Television Stations Group in August.

Like a smoke detector monitoring the air and alerting when smoke is detected, ViraWarn monitors the air and immediately alerts when coronavirus particles are detected. 


Clinician wears Fresh Air Clip (Credit: Yale New Haven Hospital/Dr. Jodi Sherman)

And while Fresh Air Clips are not yet available, researchers say its smaller size could prove to be a low-cost and easy way to detect the virus.

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

Godri Pollitt said she hopes to make the clips available to the public in the future.

This study was released as COVID-19 cases, including the highly contagious omicron variant, continue to surge across the United States. The findings also come as people struggle to find at-home COVID-19 tests.