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With Sports On Hold, A U.S. Anti-Doping Organization Switches Gears To COVID-19 Research

By Karen Price | April 09, 2020, 12:38 p.m. (ET)

Technician in the testing lab wears personal protective equipment while processing COVID-19 tests at MedStar St. Mary's Hospital on April 8, 2020 in Leonardtown, Md. 

 

A U.S.-based organization founded to combat doping in sports has jumped into the fight against COVID-19.

The Partnership for Clean Competition, in conjunction with the labs with whom they regularly partner in anti-doping research, is switching gears in light of the current pause in global sports and is now in the midst of testing 15,000 people in communities affected by COVID-19 across the United States with the goal of using the data to determine the prevalence of the virus.

This research is unique from what most are doing right now, PCC Executive Director Michael Pearlmutter said, because much of the current work is focused on treatment of the virus and the development of vaccines.

That’s important, he said, but so is what they hope to learn.

“In order to figure out the way the virus is spreading through the community and the actual prevalence you need to test asymptomatic patients as well,” he told TeamUSA.org. “These 15,000 people tested will not only find out if they have the virus but the large sample size will also allow us to figure out the actual prevalence rate in the community and how it’s spreading.

“If we had unlimited money we would say we should test 10 times that amount of people to get even better data, but this is what we can do to help make sure that people make the best decisions available based on impartial science and data.”

The PCC spent $120,000 on the testing kits, which, unlike the swabs being used in the medical community to determine the direct presence of the virus, will instead test for antibodies that will show who has the virus, who doesn’t and who has already had it perhaps without even knowing. 

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These kits, Pearlmutter explained, will use a finger prick to draw a few drops of blood from the person being tested. After combining the blood with a buffer solution, the testers will have results in about 15 minutes.

Whether the PCC finds the numbers of people infected now or in the past are higher than expected, lower than expected or as expected, Pearlmutter said, they’ll be able to use that data to inform what the next steps should be.

“We want to move the conversation forward in order to make decisions based on good data and good science,” Pearlmutter said. “That’s what we’re hoping for. We’ll go where the science takes us, so hopefully those with decision-making power will go where the science takes them.”

Testing is already underway in 24 cities across the U.S., ranging from Seattle, Los Angeles and Phoenix in the west to Boston, New York and Atlanta in the east, Pearlmutter said. The Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake City is partnering with the University of Southern California, Stanford University and local boards of health to conduct the testing, which has to be done in a narrow window of time to ensure the data isn’t comparing apples to oranges, Pearlmutter explained.

“We hope to have the data in the next week, that’s our goal,” Pearlmutter said, “Fifteen-thousand people is a lot of people, but our goal is to have data that we can share in a week.”

The Partnership for Clean Competition, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was founded in 2008 as a non-profit public charity by the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, United States Anti-Doping Agency, MLB and the NFL. While the organization is still funding more anti-doping research than ever, Pearlmutter said, this is an opportunity for the PCC to pursue an immediate public health goal and help drive good decision-making in the face of the current crisis.

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.