White Sox

Why reported MLB coronavirus testing plan raises some big red flags

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Contact tracing is one of the critical measures that needs to be taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the middle of the ongoing pandemic.

 

When someone tests positive, all the people they’ve been in close contact with during the time they might have been infected are notified and encouraged to stay home and maintain social distance from others until 14 days after their last exposure.

That’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

However, if the reported health-and-safety measures Major League Baseball has proposed for a shortened 2020 season come to fruition, the sport will ignore those guidelines.

According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, as relayed by Yahoo Sports, the league doesn’t want a positive test for COVID-19 to shut down a team or the season. So if a player does test positive, his teammates will not be required to quarantine. Instead, they will be tested and “watched closely.”

In the proposed plan that does not best attempt to prevent the spread of the virus, the testing element — the most critical in a season being able to safely get off the ground — also raises some concerning red flags.

When USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported on the details of the health-and-safety proposals Wednesday, he wrote that “MLB is not recommending daily blood tests (for COVID-19).” That stood in stark contrast with the recommendations made by a medical adviser to the Toronto Blue Jays in the same report, which included daily blood tests among other measures.

The Wall Street Journal’s report included far more information on the league’s pitched testing strategy, which does not include daily testing but testing multiple times a week for “upwards of 1,000 people.”

With major league rosters planned to expand to 30 players per team, there will be 900 active players on a daily basis — and that doesn’t include each team’s 20-man “taxi squad.” But the number of people required to stage a season is much, much larger, including coaches, training staff, front office staff, clubhouse staff, stadium staff, food-service staff, hotel staff, transportation staff and those required to broadcast games on TV.

There figures to be far more than 1,000 people working to put on the baseball season each week. Will they all be frequently tested?

More alarming still, the report includes that Major League Baseball does not plan to regularly use tests that provide rapid results, or results within a few hours of the test being administered, because those “are harder to come by.” Instead, the league is proposing using tests that deliver results within 24 hours, reserving the rapid-result tests for anyone who is showing symptoms or has been exposed.

One of the frequently mentioned facts during this pandemic is that it’s possible to have COVID-19 and transmit it to others without displaying symptoms. With a 24-hour delay in test results, a player could get tested, display no symptoms and play a game, coming into contact with other players and any of the aforementioned staffers, before knowing he tested positive. By the time that positive test result came in, the virus could have already spread around not one but two teams. Then what happens if both those teams travel before that positive test result comes back, and the number of potentially infected teams leaps from two to four?

But still, even after a positive result, the league would not move to quarantine those they know that player came into contact with.

In less worrisome news, the league will reportedly work to make sure it is not taking testing resources away from frontline health-care workers and will not continue with this plan if it does.

But as players raise countless questions about how the league will be able to guarantee their health and safety, these details are not an encouraging start.

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