Small startup WHOOP might be key device in the fight against COVID-19

WHOOP, a company that introduces wearables to machine learning and number-crunching analytics to help athletes optimize their performance is coming into its own as a potentially important device in the spread of COVID-19.

WHOOP has raised $55 million in a round of funding led by Foundry Group, with participation from Two Sigma Ventures, Accomplice, Thursday Ventures, Promus Ventures, Silicon Valley Bank, and many notable angel investors.

The PGA Tour has procured 1,000 WHOOP straps to handout to all players, caddies and other essential personnel at upcoming PGA Tour, Korn Ferry Tour and PGA Tour Champions events.The straps, which are not approved by the FDA like many health and fitness trackers, will not be mandatory, but available if players want to use them. The WHOOP straps will be in addition to other health and safety measures the PGA Tour has put in place as tournaments continue throughout the year.

As a result, PGA Tour player, Nick Watney noticed his respiratory rate had spiked from WHOOP’s app. Despite not feeling any of the physical symptoms associated with Covid-19, Watney decided to get tested.“This alerted me to ask the PGA Tour for a test even though I didn’t have any other symptoms, and I unfortunately tested positive. I’m very grateful to have identified these signs early enough, and I am now following PGA Tour Protocol,” Watney said in a statement.

This device, or similar could be part of the new normal going forward.

The secret sauce. WHOOP has developed a novel proprietary algorithm that has been shown capable of detecting 20% of pre-symptomatic COVID-19 illnesses in the two days prior to the onset of symptoms, and correctly identifying 80% of symptomatic cases by the third day of symptoms.

Due to a widespread shortage of testing, many people are being tested for COVID-19 much later than their third day of symptoms and WHOOP could then be used as an earlier indicator to prevent the spread."For the first time, we have shown that elevated respiratory rate, when compared to an individuals' normal baseline, can be used to discriminate in some cases between people who test positive for COVID-19 and those who test negative," said Professor Greg Roach, Head of Sleep & Circadian Physiology Research, CQUniversity.

WHOOP and CQUniversity created an anonymized, aggregated analysis of data provided by 271 members who contracted symptomatic COVID-19 or experienced COVID-19 symptoms and tested negative for the virus while wearing WHOOP. The novel algorithm was trained by looking at intraindividual changes in nighttime respiratory rate in multiple datasets within that population.

It's true that follow up research is required to understand if respiratory rate monitoring can aid in the detection of fully asymptomatic cases and WHOOP will continue to collect data to refine this algorithm.

"This study highlights the potential of consumer wearable technology to fill a yet unmet need in pandemic surveillance," said Dr. Douglas Johnston, a cardiac surgeon and Vice Chairman, Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery at Cleveland Clinic, who conducted an internal review of the manuscript. "The finding that elevations in nocturnal respiratory rate may indicate pre-symptomatic or early symptomatic COVID-19 infection could allow for more widespread early detection and potentially focus limited testing supplies to those most likely to have coronavirus as opposed to other viral infections."

WHOOPS’s wearable and analysis software is used by professional athletes such as sports teams in the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Major League Baseball (MLB), the company also offers a consumer-focused product. Rather than selling the hardware outright, however, Whoop packages it as a membership service starting at $30 per month, with a minimum six-month commitment.

Whoop is striving to set itself apart by helping teams or individuals drill down into their numbers and unlock meaningful insights they can take action on. Indeed, a criticism often levied at health-tracking devices is that while they’re good at giving you numbers relating to steps walked, miles run, hours slept, or calories burned, it’s often not obvious what you’re supposed to do with that data. This lack of follow-through can lead users to abandon their wearables altogether.

It just works.

The Whoop is a wrist-worn device with no alerts or display — it’s also not capable of counting your steps, and it doesn’t have built-in GPS to measure your runs. Users will need to sync their Whoop strap with their mobile phone or web app to access their vital stats.