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April 03, 2020

Joel Embiid, Sixers ownership to establish COVID-19 testing fund for healthcare workers

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3_Joel_Embiid_sixers_76ersvsCeltics_KateFrese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Sixers center Joel Embiid.

A week after committing to back Sixers employees who would have been impacted by salary reductions, center Joel Embiid is partnering with Sixers managing partners Joshua Harris and David Blitzer to establish a funding campaign to secure COVID-19 antibody testing for healthcare workers, first reported by ESPN's Ramona Shelburne on Friday afternoon.

The campaign, which is in conjunction with Penn Medicine, starts with a $1.3 million contribution from the group to fund testing for 1,000 healthcare workers in the region, with the hope being that additional funding can help expand testing not just to healthcare workers, but police officers, EMS workers, and other essential personnel in the midst of the pandemic.

“During this pandemic, many doctors and nurses are working like soldiers on the front lines of a war and they need to be provided with as much armor as possible in this battle,” Embiid said in a press release provided by Penn. “COVID-19 antibody testing can help Philadelphia health care workers at this critical time, and we need to do everything possible to help those heroes who are putting their lives at risk to help us.”

According to Shelburne, Embiid has been talking openly with Sixers ownership and GM Elton Brand about how they might help the Philadelphia community cope during this trying time.

"It's not as easy as simply writing the check," Embiid told ESPN. "It's a process to figure out the best way you feel comfortable helping."

Harris and Blitzer's connections to UPenn (both graduated from the Wharton School) provided connections to officials with the school, and each offered their own statements Friday on the importance of providing healthcare workers supplies to fight during this trying time.

“The only way for us to get through this terrible global crisis is to ensure a safe work environment for health care professionals and ultimately find a treatment for COVID-19,” said Harris, a graduate of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “We are very proud to partner with the incredible team at Penn Medicine, who are tirelessly working towards this by identifying immunity in our brave doctors and nurses. Joel has been a leader in highlighting the urgent need for this kind of testing—David and I thank him for his leadership in this area and are excited to join forces with him. Our medical workers are on the frontlines of this crisis, have been hit hardest by it and need all the help and support we can give them. We have rough days ahead, but with collective action like this, together we will make it through.” 

“Penn Medicine’s commitment to protect public health during this COVID-19 crisis is nothing short of heroic,” said Blitzer, who is also a graduate of Wharton. “We proudly support Penn’s courageous and talented staff who have put their community first and are making the biggest sacrifices among us. Joel’s recognition of this crucial effort is consistent with his tremendous character, and together, we will help fight this dangerous virus.”

The funding, according to Penn Medicine, will support experimental serology tests that detect antibodies to determine if a person has ever been infected with the virus, which will allow healthcare providers to identify staff and providers that might have immunity to COVID-19. Scott Hensley, PhD, an associate professor of Microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania, will lead the research effort.

“Learning more about how to determine who is immune to COVID-19 is important for our efforts to better equip hospitals with the knowledge needed to safely deploy their staff to care for patients as the epidemic continues,” Hensley said in a statement provided by Penn.

While the contribution to help healthcare workers is obviously the most important thing here, the partnership between Embiid and ownership is an important public display of unity following a period of some uncertainty a week ago. After the Sixers made the decision to reduce salaries for at-will employees during this period of uncertainty, Embiid's own commitment to those employees could have been read as a direct shot at the team's managing partners, a key moment that forced them to eventually reconsider the decision.

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