Major League Baseball employees, from players to stadium workers to executives, participate this week as part of a study of 10,000 people aimed at understanding how many people in various parts of the United States have been infected with the coronavirus.
Each participant will have a finger pricked to produce blood that will be tested for the presence of antibodies, which indicates previous infection even in people who have never had symptoms of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus . The virus test itself can only reveal current infection.
One of the biggest hurdles in determining when to reopen parts of the United States is uncertainty over the total number of people who have been infected and who, therefore, might now have some sort of immunity.
Teams of researchers from Stanford University, the University of Southern California and a major anti-doping lab in Salt Lake City are collaborating on the study involving MLB. They believe this is the first and largest research of its kind in the United States.
“This type of study would have taken years to organize outside of this framework,” said Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine at Stanford who is leading the study. “With the help of MLB, we were able to accomplish this in a matter of weeks.”
As the coronavirus pandemic spread and sidelined sport after sport, Daniel Eichner, the president of the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake City, realized his facility would have little or no anti-doping responsibilities for some time.
So, Eichner said, his lab shifted its focus and ordered large quantities of antibody tests that had been used successfully in some Asian countries.
To conduct representative tests, researchers needed a large group of people spread across the country. Bhattacharya said he reached out to a wide range of companies and that MLB, which already had a relationship with Eichner, was the quickest to agree. The major leagues, in response to the pandemic, close spring training on March 12 and have no specific plans to return to play.
“There’s nothing to gain for the teams or MLB on this one,” Eichner said. “It’s all about driving public health policy. »
Bhattacharya said MLB’s employee pool represents “a large portion of the American population.” He said almost all 30 MLB teams are participating and it’s up to each team to distribute the tests.
Since many MLB employees and players live in areas where stay-at-home rules are in effect, many kits were mailed to participants. The test can produce results in 15 minutes, Bhattacharya said, and photographs documenting the results can be submitted electronically to researchers.
A spokesperson for the baseball players’ union said the study was “voluntary, strictly part of independent research to collect data – it is not related to the return to play – and that the “The identity of the players will be separated from the data.”
In addition to studying MLB populations, researchers are using tests provided by Eichner to conduct antibody screening in Los Angeles and Santa Clara County, California.
Bhattacharya said he hopes to analyze data from MLB employees and players and write a paper as soon as possible, to help guide the easing of stay-at-home restrictions.
“I would love to be able to go back to Fenway Park one day,” he said. “But that’s not really the main goal. The main goal is that we can inform national policy in every community on the status of this outbreak and whether it is safe enough to open the economy.