The small number of positive tests announced on Sunday has been good news for a sport that is moving forward with plans to start its delayed season.
Researchers received 6,237 surveys completed by employees of 26 clubs. This led to 5754 samples obtained in the United States on April 14 and 15 and to 5603 records which were used. The survey kit had a false positive rate of 0.5%.
One of the study’s leaders, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford, said that the prevalence of antibodies among MLB employees was lower than that of the general population when tested in New York, Los Angeles, the San Francisco and Miami area.
“I was expecting a slightly higher figure,” Bhattacharya said during a press conference call. “All of the people in the MLB employee population that we tested in a certain sense were less affected by the COVID epidemic than their surrounding communities. “
Player data was not separated in the study and some members of the MLB family were included.
Spring training was interrupted on March 12 and the opening day was postponed from March 26 due to the pandemic. The MLB intends to give the players’ association a presentation this week for a possible start to the season, and has said that frequent testing will be required.
Antibodies are produced by a person’s immune system if they have been infected with a virus. These tests are different from the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests used to detect an active infection.
“By using two different technologies, both PCR to decrease the active virus, as well as the antibody, serological tests, which will give you better information and may even alleviate some of the concerns about false positives,” said Daniel Eichner. from the Salt Lake City Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory. another of the study’s officials.
“So I would definitely recommend if someone wanted to start a program to resume their sport, it was to use two different technologies,” he said.
The University of Southern California also participated in the study.
Bhattacharya said MLB workers are younger than the general population and have taken protective measures such as frequent hand washing when they showed up for spring training in February, earlier than most people.
No MLB employee has died from COVID-19.
While the percentage of Los Angeles Angels employees with positive tests was the highest among the teams, the margin of error is too high to draw results because only 123 tests were included by the team.
Bhattacharya called the results “good and bad news” because it showed that the virus has not spread widely in MLB but that there are still many baseball players to target. Eichner said the results could mean that MLB employees had been diligent in using personal protective equipment, such as masks.
“If this population was socially isolated and practiced good PPE, it shows that it worked and that it was not propagated”, explained Eichner. “And the flip side is that it works well, so they keep doing it. “
Sixty people tested positive in the raw data, and the figure was adjusted to around 42 to account for false positives and false negatives.
More than 95% of participants were under the age of 65 and few reported comorbidities, according to Stanford medical student Bianca Mulaney, who was the author of the study.
The Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati, Colorado and Miami did not participate, said Bhattacharya. A preprinted server will publish the study this week and it will be sent to a journal for peer review.
Test kits were provided by the Clean Competition Partnership, which funds anti-doping research, and the researchers worked for free.
Mulaney said the prevalence of positive antibody tests is higher in areas that have been hit hardest by the virus, such as New York, and lowest in areas less affected, like Ohio.
“It is a special population. It’s not that he is not representative of the entire American population, “said Bhattacharya. “But it is a large population because it allows us to have an overview of the prevalence at the national level. “
AP Baseball writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.
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