Golfer Scott Stallings Used Whoop Data To Help Detect His Covid-19 Symptoms

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Before testing positive for Covid-19, three-time PGA Tour winner Scott Stallings, who has been wearing a Whoop fitness tracker for over three years, noticed some warning signs flashing when he checked out his data on the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend.    

From the app he could see that his heart rate variability was down 40 points from typical levels, his resting heart rate was up 10 points, and his respiratory rate was elevated to 19 breaths per minute.

“Honestly man, if it was not for Whoop there is no way I would’ve gotten tested. I would have thought it was a seasonal thing. I had a very mild cough and never had a fever,” says Stallings.

The tour pro immediately started acting as if he was positive. Out of an abundance of caution he withdrew from the following week’s Mayokoba Golf Classic, and began letting everyone he came in contact with know that he might be infected. By that afternoon, a positive test confirmed his suspicions.

Stallings’ experience mirrors that of Nick Watney, who back in June became the first player on the PGA Tour to be diagnosed with Covid-19. After Watney publicly credited the health monitoring device for giving him the heads-up that his health might be compromised, the tour responded by making over 1000 Whoop straps available to tour players, caddies, media, members, and on-site staff. The LPGA and LET followed suit to help detect coronavirus symptoms.

In the following months, increased visibility, in part due to the potential new use case for the product, led to a series of deals including a partnership with the University of Tennessee.  The company’s physiological data tracking straps were made available to over 600 student athletes across 20 sports. There was also a partnership inked with fashion mogul Tory Burch who provided straps to 700 employees as a pandemic wellness initiative.

While Whoop is not an FDA approved medical device, as is the case for many popular fitness trackers, the company has been studying the ability of their technology to predict coronavirus risk. Partnering with researchers from Central Queensland University they developed an algorithm using data culled from users who shared their diagnoses of Covid-19 along with suspected cases that ended in negative tests.   A resulting paper on analyzing changes in respiratory rate to predict the risk of Covid-19 infection was just published in PLOS ONE . According to their findings the algorithm was capable of identifying 80% of Covid-19 cases by the third day a person is symptomatic and 20% of pre-symptomatic cases in infected individuals in the two days prior to the onset of symptoms.

A Scripps research study published this fall in Nature Medicine, analyzing the data of 30,000 participants was also encouraging in finding that fitness trackers and smartwatches can predict Covid-19 infection at a similar success rate.

“The medical community has begun to embrace new technologies like wearable devices during the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s been encouraging to see how WHOOP members are thinking of their own well-being in a different way through health monitoring,” says Emily Capodilupo, Whoop’s VP of Data Science & Research.

Stallings, the first PGA Tour pro to start wearing a Whoop strap, was first turned onto the devices as a means to monitor and improve upon his sleeping habits in the aftermath of sinus surgery.

While Stallings allows that interpreting the data can at first be a little bit daunting, once he got the hang of it and could see cause and effect and modify his behavior accordingly, he became hooked on the actionable intelligence the performance tracking technology provides.  

Before his positive test he’d been experimenting with optimizing his vitamin D intake in hopes of improving his sleep quality. His average had been two hours of REM sleep and an hour and a half of deep sleep a night.  But after a few tweaks to his routine, including taking his vitamin D in the morning rather than later in the day and avoiding caffeine in the afternoon, he saw dramatic gains.

“In a seven-day period, I averaged slightly just over four hours REM sleep and between two and a half to two hours and 45 minutes of deep sleep a night,” says Stallings

Stallings, who is not an investor in Whoop or paid to endorse the product, feels we are still in the early innings of understanding the limits of physiological potential and by using the data the device spits out his personal health metrics still have plenty of room for improvement.

“We are just scratching the surface in terms of what the body is truly capable of with not even a tremendous amount of effort on the human side. A little bit goes a long way and then you start to see that incremental difference day in and day out and what that effect can have on the long term is just shocking.”

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