Researchers hope that this study will provide a better understanding of how many people have had COVID-19, and their immunity levels

By Julie Mazziotta
April 15, 2020 12:29 PM
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Major League Baseball players and employees will take part in a massive antibody study this week aimed at determining how many people have had the new coronavirus, COVID-19, and understanding immunity to the virus.

The study, which will include over 10,000 people, is one of the largest yet, and should provide an answer to how many people in different parts of the U.S. have been infected with the virus. That has not yet been clear through the course of the outbreak, due to a lack of diagnostic testing for both symptomatic and asymptomatic people.

The test participants, which include MLB players, executives and stadium workers, will have their fingers pricked for a blood sample. The sample will then be tested to see if they have any COVID-19 antibodies. If they do, that would indicate that they had COVID-19 at one point, even if they never showed symptoms of the respiratory infection.

So far, there have not been any reports of MLB players testing positive for COVID-19, though several minor league baseball players and team employees have. Around a dozen players in the NBA and NHL have tested positive.

The antibody test will also provide a better understanding of how much immunity people who have had COVID-19 now have to the virus. That, researchers say, is vital to being able to reopen the country and resume activities like the currently postponed MLB season, though they emphasized that starting the season is not the reason for the study, or the MLB’s involvement.

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The test developers, from Stanford University, the University of Southern California and an antidoping lab in Salt Lake City, had simply been looking for a large corporation spread around the country, and the MLB was the first to sign on.

“This kind of study would have taken years to organize outside of this setting,” Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine at Stanford who is leading the study, told The New York Times. “With the help of MLB, we’ve managed to do this in a matter of weeks.”

“There’s nothing in it for the teams or MLB on this one,” Daniel Eichner, the president of the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake City, added to the outlet. “This is purely to drive public health policy.”

Nearly all of the MLB’s 30 teams agreed to take part in the study, and most participants will receive the testing kits by mail to their homes. The kits can provide a result in 15 minutes, and the researchers will receive the data electronically. A spokesperson for the MLB players’ union told the Times that the results will be fully anonymous, and that the players are not required to take part in the study.

Researchers will also test communities in Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties, and Bhattacharya said that these “are among the most important studies I’ll ever work on,” ESPN reported.

“We’ll have a first look at how extensive COVID is in the United States. When we start to get results like this, it will inform policy in a data-driven way to open the economy up. That includes going back to normal life, including baseball. I’m looking forward to the day I can go back to Fenway Park.”

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.