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MLB team employees participating in COVID-19 antibody testing study

Baseballs await the beginning of a spring training

Baseballs await the beginning of a spring training game between the Mets and Miami Marlins at Clover Park in Port St. Lucie, FL., Saturday Feb. 22, 2020. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Thousands of Major League Baseball team employees, including some from the Mets and Yankees, are participating this week in a study that is trying to measure the prevalence of COVID-19 antibodies in the general population.

Researchers from Stanford University, the University of Southern California and the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory — a Utah-based anti-doping company — recently approached MLB asking to use its large group of geographically diverse employees and their families for the study. The pool of subjects  later was limited to employees only.

Those employees, participating on a voluntary basis, received at-home rapid antibody tests with specific instructions to self-administer Tuesday or Wednesday. The test kit requires a finger prick to draw blood and produces results within 15 minutes. The presence of antibodies, as determined by a positive test, means that person already had the new coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, even if he or she never showed symptoms.

The goal of the study is to gauge the actual coronavirus infection rate in the United States. Because so many people who contract the virus are asymptomatic, public health professionals aren’t sure what percentage of the population already has dealt with it.

Up to 10,000 people are participating in the study, according to ESPN, which was the first to report the existence of the study Tuesday and specifically noted that the antibody test is different from the test that detects active COVID-19.

"This is the first study of national scope where we're going to get a read on a large number of communities throughout the United States to understand how extensive the spread of the virus has been,"  Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, told ESPN. “Why MLB versus other employers? I've reached out to others, but MLB moved by far the fastest. They've been enormously cooperative and flexible. We're trying to set up a scientific study that would normally take years to set up, and it's going to be a matter of weeks.”

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