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Podcast 102: Respiratory Rate Research & Pro Golfer Scott Stallings on COVID

By Will Ahmed

Podcast 102: Respiratory Rate Research & Pro Golfer Scott Stallings on COVID

We are continuing our groundbreaking research looking at the connection between an increase in respiratory rate and COVID-19 infections.

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This week’s WHOOP Podcast is a deep dive on everything you need to know about respiratory rate and how to monitor your WHOOP data during the pandemic. VP of Data Science Emily Capodilupo shares our latest research updates, and pro golfer Scott Stallings returns to the podcast to detail how his data indicated that he had come down with coronavirus. It’s our hope that you find this episode informative and actionable as you navigate the world during the pandemic. Stay healthy and stay in the green!  

COVID Respiratory Rate Research & Scott Stallings Podcast Show Notes

2:00 - Studying Respiratory Rate. A WHOOP study into respiratory rate and its connection to COVID-19 has been accepted for peer review. 4:00 - Our Respiratory Rate Findings. In studying 25,000 WHOOP members, we learned that respiratory rate changes very little on a night-to-night basis. “We found that the average WHOOP member’s standard deviation was about half of a breath per minute. This is something that had never been documented before, what normal, night-to-night variation in healthy people is in their respiratory rates.” 5:09 - Respiratory Rate Increases and COVID-19. “When respiratory rate suddenly increases, and particularly when it increases in this interesting, gradual pattern over the course of a couple of nights, a sustained increase, that can be indicative of COVID-19.” 8:42 - Detecting the Incubation Period. “What is particularly unique about COVID-19 is its long incubation period. So we believe that the reason why we’re seeing this pattern of the gradually increasing respiratory rate over the course of a couple nights is because what we’re actually seeing is the incubation. The infection is setting up shop, for lack of a better term, in your lungs prior to when you would actually consciously feel symptomatic, but that efficiency loss is there so the respiratory rate starts to rise to compensate.” 10:19 - Putting WHOOP Data to Work. “The best way to think about how to use something like this is to know that this elevated respiratory rate can be an acute sign that you do have COVID and you should use that as an invitation to get tested and be that much more conscientious about your social distancing and not having any unnecessary contact with anybody. But we’re actually not at a point right now that if your respiratory rate is constant that I would say carte blanche to go do whatever you want, you don’t have COVID. We just haven’t seen enough, and certainly not with this paper, of what happens with people who are totally asymptomatic. It’s possible they would have a similar pattern, but we don’t know that yet.” 12:30 - When to be Concerned About a Respiratory Rate Increase. “The interesting thing that we [discuss] in this paper is that it’s not so much the one day change, because other things can cause your respiratory rate to acutely increase, it’s this pattern of this couple of nights where it’s steadily increasing. What you really want to look out for is maybe the first increase will still be within your typical range, but it will be coming up to the top edge of that, and then you’ll see [an increase] that’s a little bit elevated, and then you see a big spike.” Emily notes that type of pattern can be indicative of a COVID-19 infection. 13:48 - Non-COVID Factors That Can Cause a Respiratory Rate Spike. Emily notes that changes in air quality, altitude, and medication can all increase your respiratory rate, as can smoking and drinking. Other lower respiratory tract infections, such as pneumonia and other illnesses, can also result in an elevated respiratory rate. 18:01 - COVID-19 Research Paper in the journal PLOS ONE. 18:16 - A Remarkable Detection Rate. WHOOP picked up on 80% of symptomatic COVID cases with the elevated respiratory rate algorithm. “That’s pretty amazing,” Will says. 20:17 - Scott Stallings Returns to the Podcast. Check out Scott’s previous appearance in Episode 30. 23:07 - How His Data Tanked. “I woke up [November 30] and my respiratory rate was 19 (up from 16), my HRV was 40 points down, my resting heart rate was 10 points up, and my recovery was 11. I wish there was a good story behind that, but ultimately it was a good night’s sleep at home after a lowkey evening. I called my doctor, Dr. Kevin Sprouse, who has been on the [WHOOP] Podcast before, awesome dude. He and his team found me a spot to go get tested. I went and got it that afternoon and the lady walked in and told me I was positive.” 24:52 - Why WHOOP Led to a COVID Test. “I would not have gotten tested if it wasn’t for [WHOOP]. … Legitimately, if it wasn’t for WHOOP, I would not have been in a spot where I would’ve found out. I would have been out in public, I would have been playing and practicing. Heck, I may have even gone to Mexico [to play in a tournament there]. Who knows what impact I would’ve had just being in public? While my symptoms are mild and pretty manageable, I know it's detrimental for others, and I’m trying to do my part and be respectful and cognizant of that.” 26:21 - Baseline Deviation. Scott’s data shows his baseline respiratory rate is 16.7. “It looks like you had never been above 17 before,” Will says, noting that Scott’s respiratory rate hit 19.1 on the morning of his positive test. “And you have been on WHOOP for 3 years.” Scott says he had no inclination that his data was about to “fall off a cliff.” 27:47 - Difficulty in Diagnosing Symptoms. Scott was dealing with some congestion before his positive test, but chalked it up to falling temperatures. He says he often deals with congestion and a sore throat when the seasons change after undergoing major sinus surgery 5 years ago to correct his sleep apnea. “I was able to utilize [WHOOP] to make the decisions to take the necessary steps to find out I was positive and hopefully get to a spot where I didn’t affect hardly anybody.” 31:09 - Road to Recovery. “[I’m using WHOOP] for recovery and evaluating truly where I’m at. My HRV is slowly but surely coming back to baseline. My resting heart rate is about where it was. My respiratory rate is back down to the normal level. … [WHOOP] can help you make decisions when things are off but it can also help you make decisions when you’re trying to come back on the other side. You see a lot of people come back too soon and really, really struggle.” 34:12 - Family Support. “My kids have been great and super supportive. My son has started calling me ‘The Pandemic.’ He drew this Star Wars thing and slid it under the door where I was. It said, ‘I love you, The Pandemic.’ I think you have to laugh about it, but you still have to take it seriously and understand that it’s running rampant all over, no matter where you are. I’m not trying to make light of the situation but we’re trying to handle it the best way we possibly can and deal with it one day at a time.”   Learn More: Scott Stallings on Battling Chronic Fatigue, PGA Tour Suspension & Reaching New Heights with WHOOP