Coronavirus in Oklahoma: Oklahoman behind population testing for COVID-19 antibodies
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Jim Tedrow said the way he became the driving force behind the first large-scale testing in the U.S. for the prevalence of COVID-19 antibodies in the general population might be divine intervention.
In just over two weeks during late March, Tedrow, a local Oklahoma City businessman, had collaborated with top scientists to conduct a study to test more than 3,300 individuals in Santa Clara County, California, on April 3-4 for virus antibodies.
“I could list 50 things that if any one of them didn’t go just right, the thing wouldn't happen. So it was really kind of a surreal experience,” Tedrow said.
“I think we’ll be able to provide some real insight into true infection rates, which will allow for a better, more informed understanding of really where we are at with the disease, the lethality of the disease and, hopefully, that will allow for more-informed public policy.”
Testing for COVID-19 antibodies is increasingly being viewed as an important tool for understanding, controlling and treating the virus, as well as being used as a gauge for when it might be safe to reopen economies.
The study results are awaiting peer review in a national medical journal, but Tedrow said he could confirm “the study suggests that the number of infections are dramatically higher than the number of confirmed cases.”
Tedrow has owned Compliance Resource Group, a major drug testing and employee screening company in Oklahoma City, for the last two decades.
In early March, he was preparing himself for the “imminent crisis” that was headed toward the country.
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He said he stumbled on an article in the Wall Street Journal written by a professor of economics at the University of Southern California that said the current practice of only testing those who were seriously sick for the virus would not be enough — to find the true prevalence of the disease, testing needed to be done on the asymptomatic general population.
“That really resonated with me,” Tedrow said.
By March 19, Tedrow, who has a background in medical technology and is a trained laboratory scientist, had developed an idea for how to test for antibodies, which will show if a person had ever been infected with the virus rather than if they are just sick at the time of the test.
Late that night, Tedrow sent an email to the Wall Street Journal author, Neeraj Sood at USC, explaining his idea for testing large swaths of the population.
Tedrow didn’t expect to hear back.
But an hour later, an email from Sood said he was very interested in Tedrow’s idea and wanted to talk. And he’d be bringing in colleagues from Stanford.
What unfolded over the next two weeks in late March was a whirlwind of planning and logistics as study permits were approved, antibody tests were flown in from China, Stanford medical students were recruited as volunteers and a makeshift lab was constructed in a ballroom hotel in Santa Clara County.
Multiple tests were done beforehand to measure the effectiveness of the equipment.
Tedrow was in charge of building and overseeing the lab volunteers used, so he flew to California during the first weekend in April.
A subsequent study was completed in Los Angeles County last week. And now researchers are working with 27 Major League Baseball organizations to perform testing on thousands of employees, which will bring in results from around the country.
The goal is not to discredit the decisions made by officials over the last several weeks in responding to the virus, Tedrow said.
But as the pandemic continues, science is hopefully catching up.
“It is our hope when we have new data, the policy makers can look and see what would be appropriate going forward,” Tedrow said.