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Podcast 156: New WHOOP Research on Omicron Variant of COVID-19

By Will Ahmed

Podcast 156: New WHOOP Research on Omicron Variant of COVID-19

On this week’s episode, we’re diving into a topic that’s top of mind for many of you–Omicron.

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We are examining what WHOOP data can tell us about the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Omicron cases are rising across the globe–accounting for 95% of the reported cases in the US. Since the beginning of the pandemic, WHOOP has been conducting research to better understand how COVID can affect sleep and recovery, what physiological response vaccines produce, and perhaps most importantly, how COVID affects respiratory rate. Our latest WHOOP research shows that with the Omicron variant, like previous strains of the virus, COVID-19 infections often coincide with an increase in respiratory rate. WHOOP VP of Data Science and Research Emily Capodilupo returns to the podcast to detail our findings, which include new information indicating that men may experience a more significant respiratory rate spike than women. WHOOP is also seeing that many people experience a respiratory rate dip below baseline after the increase. We also found that respiratory rate with Omicron returned to baseline faster than with earlier variants for both men and women. Stay healthy and stay in the green!  

Omicron Podcast Quotes & Highlights

1:12 - Understanding Omicron. “We want to understand how [Omicron is] affecting your WHOOP data. And how is it affecting your WHOOP data despite the fact that many of you may be vaccinated? We discuss what we learned from 20,000 WHOOP members who have now shared their positive test results, their symptoms, and their WHOOP data with us.” 3:34 - Latest WHOOP COVID Research. “There was this big question following up on all the research we did starting almost two years ago. … If Omicron is so much more mild than other variants, is [an increased respiratory rate in COVID cases] still showing up? That was really the question that inspired us to take on this research project,” Emily says. “With the original strain, the Delta strain, and now with the Omicron strain, we're [still] seeing that spike [in respiratory rate]. Even though the reported symptoms are much more mild [with Omicron], the [WHOOP] data looks really similar [to the previous variants].” 5:31 - Why Respiratory Rate is Important. “We've been really focused on this spike in respiratory rate [during the pandemic] because it tends to be the cleanest [data point] to see,” Emily says. “Because for most people, most of the time, your respiratory rate doesn't really change from night to night.” 8:30 - Gender Differences. WHOOP research now shows that men are more likely to see a significant increase in respiratory rate with a COVID infection, while women may experience a more subtle increase. “When we looked at the Omicron data, what we were seeing is that the respiratory rate spike in women is actually not quite as high as it is in men. That potentially means that it might be easier to miss it for females than for males.” 9:13 - Respiratory Rate Dips. “One thing that was interesting to see with Omicron that we did not see in earlier variants was that following the respiratory rate spike, we're actually seeing a respiratory rate dip across the whole population, which we didn't see before. … This is actually one of the things to look out for,” Emily says. “Physiologically, this is explained by a concept called super compensation where basically your body is trying so hard to get your lungs back to [normal], that it almost goes too far.” 11:59 - Return to Baseline. “The other big difference between Omicron and earlier variants that we're seeing is that the [respiratory rate] spike lasts much shorter. We're seeing the return to baseline, the recovery from COVID, is much faster.” 14:23 - Omicron and Vaccines. “Omicron has a lot of different mutations compared to the original strain, which is why it's able to sort of evade our vaccines because it's sufficiently different from the strains that we got vaccinated for. So we're seeing it break through. What we are seeing is that people, especially people who are boosted, but definitely people who are vaccinated as well are getting much much more mild cases. So even when it does break through, there does seem to be some amount of protection because they don't get as sick and then they recover faster.” 16:08 - Will’s Story. Will shares his experience with COVID and how an elevated respiratory rate led him to get tested multiple times. 18:34 - Factors that Can Increase Your Respiratory Rate. Emily and Will note that altitude, alcohol, smoking, environmental factors such as wildfires, and other lower respiratory tract infections are some of the non-COVID factors that can increase your respiratory rate. 20:07 - Testing in a Time of Omicron. Will and Emily discuss viral load and how you may not test positive for COVID while you’re feeling the most symptomatic, especially if you’ve previously had COVID or have been vaccinated. 23:46 - A Sign of Better Days Ahead? Emily cites wastewater data from major American cities as a sign that cases may soon be on the decline. 24:35 - WHOOP Vaccine Research. WHOOP recently published a research study in the Journal of Applied Physiology on the temporary effects of the COVID-19 vaccines on the body. WHOOP explored 70,000 members and how they responded to the vaccines, and found that while many people experienced decreases in their recovery and sleep data, those dips were short lived. LEARN MORE: COVID-19 Research, Data & Resources – Tips for Tracking Your Health During a Pandemic   The products and services of WHOOP are not medical devices, 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. All content available through the products and services of WHOOP is for general informational purposes only.