Thousands of Major League Baseball employees are taking part in a massive research study to better understand how widespread cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, are throughout the United States this week.
The testing will use blood obtained via finger pricks to see if participants have antibodies associated with the virus, indicating if the person has had an infection in the past even if they were asymptomatic. A positive test would mean the person had been infected with COVID-19, and results would be delivered in just 10 to 15 minutes.
Widely available testing only shows if a patient has an active coronavirus infection, but not if they have had it in the past.
The study will include up to 10,000 volunteers ranging from players and their families to part-time stadium employees and other staff members. It is being run jointly by Stanford University, the University of Southern California and the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory, according to ESPN, which first reported the news alongside The Athletic.
Researchers hope the undertaking — which will include participants from 27 teams across the nation — will give a better sense of how many people in regions around America have been infected with the virus, a key data point that experts say would be needed to reopen parts of the country under social distancing or stay-at-home orders.
“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 and a researcher behind the study, told ESPN.
Bhattacharya said MLB was chosen because the organization “moved by far the fastest” and had 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,” he continued.
The MLB is not paying to take part in the study, which is being funded by donors, and a spokesman for the baseball players’ union said it was not connected to any type of resumption in play, per The New York Times. The league shut down spring training last month and there are no set plans to resume.
The test results will be gathered later this week, some of which have already been taken.
The news comes as cases of the coronavirus continue to spike around the nation. More than 609,000 people have been infected in the U.S., and more than 24,000 have died.
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