From Finance to Fahrenheit: A Unique Pandemic Career Path
By Anokhee Mepani
As we finally look ahead to what a post-Covid-19 world might look like, it’s become glaringly clear that our cities, states, and country need an early warning system for contagious illnesses. Just as we have early warning systems for hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes and even asteroids, we need one that alerts us to spreading illnesses, so we can take action early to stop an outbreak before it turns into a pandemic.
I began my career in finance as an investment banker, and most recently was the Director of Strategy and Operations at Addepar, a $2.3 billion wealth management technology company. But during nights and weekends, I poured my heart and soul into the nonprofit I run, Learn to Love.
Learn to Love makes education possible for children with acute special needs by providing the healthcare services and support they need to go to and stay in school. Running Learn to Love and providing school-based health programs is where I find joy and meaning.
When the pandemic hit, like many others, I reevaluated my life choices and decided to leave a career I wasn’t passionate about. Instead, I would dedicate 100 percent of my time and energy to help kids stay healthy and in school. As I decided to change jobs, the No. 1 obstacle keeping kids out of the classroom was Covid-19.
This past year, I left my career in finance to join Kinsa Health https://kinsahealth.com, a public health company on a mission to curb the spread of infectious diseases through early detection and early response. For seven years, Kinsa has run a school-based health program called FLUency that reduces the spread of illness in classrooms. FLUency has been proven to decrease illness-based absenteeism during peak flu season by 27 percent. At Kinsa, I now run our FLUency program, and also lead our Public Sector efforts.
In late February, 2020, Kinsa detected atypical levels of febrile illness in New York City. We alerted public health officials, but as a startup company, we didn’t have a big voice back then. Three weeks later, the world was calling the atypical illness we saw Covid-19.
How did Kinsa detect an anomalous disease before the traditional public health system? Because we talk to households. Typical public health data starts with the healthcare system, which unfortunately only sees a portion of illness. Here’s some of those people the healthcare system misses:
● People who don’t have access to healthcare (can’t afford it, live too far, etc.)
● People who have mild symptoms that they treat at home
● People who don’t want to go to the doctor, or may have been encouraged not to go, in order to limit the spread of disease, as was done were during the early days of the pandemic
At Kinsa, we talk to households using the simplest, most essential in-home medical device: the thermometer. By using commonplace human behavior (checking to see if there’s a fever when someone falls ill), we’re able to access and communicate with people at their earliest sign or symptom of illness. You take your temperature with a Kinsa thermometer, enter any symptoms into the app, and Kinsa immediate triages and provides guidance to you on what to do next.
Now, put that smart thermometer in millions of households. We’re able to detect where and when illness is on the rise, how fast it’s spreading, and how severe it’s becoming, all while protecting individual privacy.
Kinsa’s school health program, FLUency, makes our smart thermometer and a connected app accessible to families across the country. This past school year, we were in more than 4,000 schools, 85 percent of which are Title I schools with a large percentage of low-income children. Through FLUency, we reach underserved communities by giving our smart thermometer to families and staff members in schools for free, and giving the school tools to curb the spread of illness.
Now, as the New York Times recently reported, New York City is making FLUency available to all 700 public elementary schools. We’re helping to stop the spread of illness in school communities, and we’re strengthening the city’s early warning system for contagious illnesses, because we never want to see a pandemic like Covid-19 hit our city again.
Anokhee Mepani, who grew up in Boston, lived in New York City for over a decade. She now lives in California with her husband and lots of plants. Anokhee is committed to helping students achieve their full potential by providing the healthcare services they need to stay in school. She's the Director of Public Sector & K-12 at Kinsa, and also founded Learn to Love, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that supports the education and healthcare of children with acute special needs. In her free time, she loves to dance, read, and meet new people.