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MLB employees assist with COVID-19 antibody study

The Tampa Bay Rays were among teams participating in the first of its kind national study.

SEMINOLE, Fla. — Across the country, Wednesday, employees with various Major League Baseball teams were learning how to perform a simple blood test which could shed light on just how many Americans have been exposed to COVID-19.

Unlike the current swab tests, which look for infection, this study is testing blood in search of antibodies which would indicate previous exposure by people who may not have realized they were previously infected.

“From yesterday on, I couldn't wait to do it,” said Tom Zimmer, a longtime scout for the San Francisco Giants. “You just want to know.”

Zimmer is father to 10News reporter Beau Zimmer and was tested along with other Major League Baseball employees around the country, including members of the Tampa Bay Rays.

“I want to know if I have antibodies,” Zimmer said. “That means maybe I kicked [the virus] out somewhere along the line even though I've never been sick.”

Zimmer says more than 200 members of the Giants organization volunteered for the testing and were led by the team doctor through the testing procedures.   

After a pinprick to the finger, a small amount of blood is transferred into a cartridge, which then displays a pink line indicating if the person is positive or negative for antibodies.   

“The main thing I want to know is how common is COVID in communities all across the country,” said study organizer Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University. “Until you know that, you can't know how far along in the epidemic we are.”

Dr. Bhattacharya says Major League Baseball was the perfect partner because they have a diverse group of employees across the country and could help execute the study quickly.

Within 10 to 20 minutes of completing the test, volunteers were asked to immediately label, photograph and e-mail in their results.   

“I have never had better research partners,” Dr. Bhattacharya said. “They’ve been fantastic!”

The results will help researchers get a better idea of how widespread COVID-19 actually was across the United States, but could also eventually help doctors understand more about post-exposure immunity.   

“This will provide the first step towards understanding when it’s safe to lift up the caps,” Bhattacharya said, talking about reopening the country.

Zimmer, who is in his 50th year of pro baseball says he’s unsure if he’ll make it back to the ballpark before retiring at the end of the year, but he says this study is about much more than just baseball.

“This is about everyone getting back to work.”

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