A week or so into the season, and the only thing we know for sure is that a lot of players still refuse to get vaccinated for COVID-19, and the pandemic is still impacting the game into a third season.
“We’re not out of the woods,” Cubs president Jed Hoyer said Tuesday in the wake of at least 21 players from at least eight teams spending time on the COVID-19 injured list in the past week — 15 players on five teams going on the list since Monday.
The Cubs have so far escaped an outbreak like the one they had the final week of last season. But with MLB testing protocols relaxed and vaccines still not mandated in the league, the recent wave of COVID list moves this early in the season is at least a reminder, if not a wakeup call for diligence.
“COVID is still around,” Hoyer said. “I know there are some municipalities out there that are going back to mask mandates, and I think [a lot] of us are largely vaccinated and a lot of guys have hit it and a lot of people want to move on and not wear masks. And I totally understand that desire to return to that.
“But we can’t forget that there’s new variants out there, and there’s cities that are struggling. We have to continue to be careful.”
In recent days, Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger, Red Sox catcher Kevin Plawecki (and two Red Sox staff members), and Mets players Brandon Nimmo and Mark Canha (and a Mets coach) all tested positive for COVID-19, with Mariners manager Scott Servais and third-base coach Manny Acta reportedly testing positive Wednesday.
Plawecki, Canha, Servais and Acta tested positive despite all having been vaccinated, according to reports.
Nimmo returned from the list Tuesday; Canha, Wednesday.
Oakland has been hit the hardest, with six players added to the COVID list Monday night, joining teammate Stephen Piscotty.
Three of those A’s had been held back on the restricted list over the weekend when the team went to Toronto because of Canada’s restrictions against unvaccinated visitors.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox — the Blue Jays division-rivals — also have multiple unvaccinated players who will go on the restricted list for next week’s series in Toronto, Red Sox manager Alex Cora said (and presumably the next two series the Sox are scheduled to play in Toronto).
That includes Red Sox pitcher Tanner Houck, who would have been the scheduled starter for the second game of that series and who told the Boston Globe he’s not vaccinated.
The Red Sox on Tuesday added two players to the COVID IL, in addition to Plawecki.
The Cubs, by the way, play in Toronto in August.
It may seem like a post-COVID world to many, especially in Florida, where a federal judge this week struck down the federal mandate for masks on commercial flights.
But the virus hasn’t gone away. And it’s already showing its ability to impact a third straight MLB season.
“And especially right now,” Hoyer said. “Players are not at full strength yet because of the short spring training, and now you’re dealing with the fact that you’re playing even more-handed.
“We hope to avoid it. And we have to be smart about it.”
Hopefully, the players who have tested positive don’t have serious reactions. Hopefully, MLB avoids any serious cases all year.
And hopefully, MLB finds a good use for the forfeited salaries of the anti-vaxxers on the restricted list — like maybe relief for frontline workers with lingering PTSD and burnout symptoms, research and therapies for long-haulers, or vaccination efforts in areas where resources might be limited.
As for the COVID deniers, vax conspiracy theorists and ivermectin-fueled, shot-fearing, mask-phobic snowflakes who get angry at the mere mention that COVID remains a threat, save it for the next tin-foil origami meeting.