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April 1, 2020

Podcast No. 67: Respiratory Rate and COVID-19

Here at WHOOP, we are studying all things coronavirus. Emily Capodilupo, our VP of Data Science and Research, joins me to discuss what we have learned so far tracking COVID-19.

By Will Ahmed

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We have been gathering information on coronavirus via the all-new WHOOP Journal and we have already obtained fascinating insights into this terrible disease.

WHOOP is investigating a potential connection between changes in respiratory rate and COVID-19 symptoms. We believe that a noticeable increase in respiratory rate is a measurable precursor of coronavirus symptoms based on individual cases that we have seen in our data. We are studying this possible link with our research partners in an effort to better understand this current health crisis.

Respiratory Rate & COVID-19 Podcast Show Notes:

0:29 – Optimizing WHOOP in a Time of Coronavirus. “Many of you have been reaching out to us to understand how your WHOOP data is being reflected in this crazy time, whether that’s stress or more sleep or less sleep, and in particular if there’s anything that you might be able to tell in your WHOOP data that relates to COVID-19.”

1:16 – Why WHOOP is Tracking Coronavirus. “We became the first consumer app that allowed for COVID-19 tracking in the app, and the response that we saw was pretty amazing. We had hundreds of positive responses in the first 24 hours and those have only since grown. We’ve had WHOOP members reach out saying they wanted to volunteer their data to help us really understand what WHOOP data looks like in the context of COVID-19.”

2:32 – Research Partnership. Emily details a newly announced research partnership between WHOOP, the Cleveland Clinic, and CQUniversity Australia to investigate a potential connection between changes in respiratory rate and COVID-19 symptoms.

4:32 – What WHOOP Has Learned About Coronavirus. “What we’re seeing is that [respiratory rate] is one of the most interesting metrics responding to COVID-19 and that’s because COVID-19 is a lower respiratory tract infection. … Respiratory rate skyrockets early in the course of a COVID-19 disease progression. It’s the first sign that we see.”

8:12 – Detecting the Sick Sooner. “In a lot of diseases, during the incubation period you’re not contagious. You can’t give the disease to other people. One thing that makes the SARS CoV-2, which is the name of the virus that causes COVID-19, particularly dangerous is that asymptomatic incubation period. That’s when actually they think most of the transmission is occurring. People are making other people sick before they even know that they’re sick themselves. There’s a lot of interest in being able to detect that people are sick before they have symptoms so that they can be quarantined because they’re very much dangerous even though they’re not yet aware that they’re sick.”

10:27 – Looking at the Symptoms. “In most moderate to severe cases, COVID-19 is presenting a lower respiratory tract infection, which is similar to bronchitis and some strains of the flu. Since the flu and allergies primarily impact tissues of the upper respiratory tract, elevated respiratory rate is a less common symptom of things like the flu or normal sickness, but elevated respiratory rate could be the smoking gun for identifying COVID-19.”

12:21 – How Data Can Help. “[WHOOP is] not a medical device. Our goal is not to diagnose any disease or condition, especially not COVID-19 or the flu. … But if you have a baseline, you’ve been on WHOOP for a few days prior to getting exposed, and then now you know that your respiratory rate is elevated, that’s information that you can give to your doctor. That’s another data point that can help him make the right call.”

13:17 – Normal Respiratory Rates. “The typical resting respiratory rate is between 12 and 20 breaths per minute. … So if somebody who is athletic has a resting respiratory rate of let’s say 14 breaths per minute, and then it goes up to 17 breaths per minute, percentage-wise that’s actually a really meaningful increase.”

14:05 – Breathing Proves Consistent. “One of the things that we’ve noticed about respiratory rate that I think is particularly relevant here is that in healthy individuals respiratory rate varies very little from day-to-day.”

14:39 – The First Known WHOOP Member With Coronavirus. Will and Emily share the story of Brian Eisenberg, a New York City man who contracted coronavirus in early March. Brian shared his data with WHOOP to detail how the virus affected his body and recovery.

16:25 – Finding Accurate Information. “One thing that’s a little bit tricky in some of this research is testing is so unavailable right now. There’s a lot of noise in the data. There’s a lot of people who think they have COVID-19, but do they actually have the flu? Is this actually a cold? Is it actually the air is dry and your throat is tickling and it turns out to be nothing?”

17:01 – Validation Study. “WHOOP became the first (and only) wearable to have their respiratory rate validated by a third party.”

19:22 – Heart Rate, HRV, and COVID-19. “Having an elevated resting heart rate and a lower heart rate variability seems to be consistent with people who have tested positive for COVID-19. However, it’s non-specific. Those two things could also mean you overtrained, or could also mean you have a common cold, or could also mean that you’re hungover. If those are the only two things that you saw in your data, your immediately should not be ‘I have COVID-19.’ It’s just a sign that something is going on in your body.”

21:02 – Exercise Intolerance. Emily discusses why not being able to complete a normal workout is “consistent with the earlier stages of a lower respiratory tract infection.”

23:33 – Tracking Respiratory Rate. Beginning on Thursday April 2, WHOOP members will be able to track their respiratory rate in the WHOOP app. This function is also currently available via our web app at app.whoop.com.

26:00 – Your Questions. Will goes through our mailbag to answer questions from the audience.

WHOOP is not a medical device, our products and services are not intended to diagnose COVID-19, the flu or any other disease, and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance. WHOOP today works with everyone from professional athletes to fitness enthusiasts to executives. Ahmed has raised nearly $100 million from top investors and has an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, and designers. He wrote “The Feedback Tool: Measuring Fitness, Intensity, and Recovery,” which sparked the underlying physiology and engineering for his work today. Ahmed was named a 2011 Harvard College Scholar for finishing in the top 10% of his class and a CSA Scholar Athlete; he captained the Harvard Men’s Varsity Squash Team. He was also recently named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal 40 Under 40.

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