Dead lifts to blood draws: San Jose fitness center starts COVID-19 testing
San Jose resident and Mind Pump Media host Adam Schafer had his blood drawn to test for antibodies caused by COVID-19. Photo by Katie Lauer.

Tucked in the back room of an otherwise empty Red Dot Fitness just west of Downtown San Jose, Adam Schafer averted his eyes when 5 mL of his blood was drawn Thursday afternoon.

That small vial will be shipped overnight to Vibrant America Labs in San Carlos, where it will be tested for antibodies — the highly sensitive biomarkers that can show the presence of COVID-19 — as one attempt at measuring the infection in people who may have previously been exposed or are asymptomatic.

Schafer, a host of the San Jose-based Mind Pump Media podcast, believes he contracted the coronavirus in early January after experiencing the worst flu-like symptoms of his life. He said his co-host’s children, who suffered through the same illness, were hospitalized.

So when he heard Red Dot Fitness offered 15-minute tests just down the street from his office, he quickly signed up.

“If we can do this to get our results faster and find out now, it’s worth it for sure,” said Schafer, who will receive his results within three days. “For peace of mind, I want to know now.”

Of the test’s $225 price tag, $150 pays for lab fees, while the remaining dollars cover staff and administrative costs. Vibrant America’s test has been validated, but the Food and Drug Administration’s independent review of this validation is pending.

While the idea of drawing blood in a gym may sound odd, this is business as usual for Red Dot Fitness co-founders Scott Howell and Catherine “CeCe” English.

Before the nonessential business shut its doors due to Santa Clara County’s shelter-in-place order, the staff provided diagnostic testing for a wide range of blood panels — including hormone, thyroid and food-sensitivity tests — to better tailor training programs for its members.

“This isn’t our first rodeo with blood testing,” Howell said. “We’re not just your typical gym.”

From left, Red Dot Fitness co-owners Scott Howell and Catherine “CeCe” English offer $225 COVID-19 antibody tests. Photo by Katie Lauer.

Howell said they booked 20 appointments within two hours of launching the program. They do testing on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., which allows for limiting public exposure and coordinating the test.

Because the test is so new, there’s still research being done into what exactly positive and negative antibody results mean. But English said this is another way to get more data for scientists to study.

“It’s not so much civic duty as civic participation,” English said. “We’re thrilled that this has come together, and I hope it opens up the doors for other people to do it. I think it’s giving people hope, but also giving people accurate information. It’s going to be a learning process.”

The test is only valid through blood serum collection, not through finger pricks. But once that process gets the go-ahead, Howell said they will look into offering those faster, easier services. Until then, he’s also been working to provide testing to those on the frontlines fighting the surge locally.

“We would love to expand this if there was an opportunity to do more,” Howell said. “We’d love to be able to provide this for first responders — we think they should be the first ones to know. Ideally, it would be great if this would be free and we were just providing the ability to get everybody the test.”

But for residents like Schafer, he had no problem that the test wasn’t free, especially as Red Dot Fitness has had to pivot the rest of its business online through virtual training.

“I think it’s awesome that Scott and CeCe had the foresight to make this happen,” Schafer said. “They’ve had to think of creative ways to continue to generate revenues so they can pay their staff and continue to keep the lights on. What better way than servicing your community and providing a service like this?”

Contact Katie Lauer at katie@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

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