On the same day Johns Hopkins University researchers said America’s COVID-19 infection total surpassed 4 million, Sanford Health officials said they will start drawing blood from 3,000 employees to detect antibodies to the coronavirus.

Headquartered in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Sanford Health includes 44 hospitals, 1,400 physicians and more than 200 Good Samaritan Society senior care locations in 26 states and nine countries.

“Our Sanford Health and Good Samaritan Employees have done a fantastic job caring for our patients and residents during this pandemic,” Dr. Allison Suttle, Sanford chief medical officer, said upon announcing the plans. “Now, we want to know more about their potential exposure to the virus, how their immune systems responded and overall, more about the virus itself.”

Specific questions Sanford officials hope to answer via the study include:

How prevalent is COVID-19?

Who exactly develops antibodies to COVID-19 and how long do those antibodies last?

Will those antibodies prevent a patient from getting COVID-19 again?

The study is known as Seroprevalence under Repeated Viral Immunity Examination, or SURVIVE for short. It calls for enrolling up to 3,000 Sanford employees who meet specific criteria for the study. The voluntary enrollees will then have their blood drawn seven times during the next year to detect antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“We know our teams here always rise to the challenge, and we know they’ll be ready to help in this next step to better understand COVID-19,” Suttle added.

Officials said the study will begin with employees in South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota who worked directly with COVID-19 patients in the designated hospital unit, the emergency department, OB-GYN triage, Sanford laboratories or any Good Samaritan Society care location.

Officials said anyone who participates in the research will receive his or her results.

Presently, the true significance of the detection of antibodies is not fully known, they said.

It is assumed the presence of antibodies means one was infected with the virus, but it is not known if antibodies protect from being infected from the virus again, Sanford officials added.

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