The stakes are high. The prognoses vary.
Rob Manfred and his owners desperately want to get their product back on the field in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown, and the Major League Baseball commissioner took his cause public on Thursday night, sharing with CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta the health and safety protocols that were presented to the Players Association in a virtual meeting this week. Players would undergo multiple tests per week, and if a player tests positive, he will be quarantined but his exposed teammates won’t unless they too test positive; the sport will go on.
Those protocols received mixed reviews — one thumbs up, one less so — in a pair of interviews with medical experts on Friday.
“It certainly looks like a step in the right direction to keep your players safe, in order to get them on the field,” Dr. Joseph Kim, an infectious disease consultant at ID Care in New Jersey, said Friday in a telephone interview.
“It’s going to be very delicate,” said Dr. Joseph Casino, a pulmonologist at Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital.
MLB’s journey, should the players and owners agree on financial terms for a restart and government officials approve such mass gatherings (without fans), will be like no other. While we naturally want to look to the Korea Baseball Organization as a comparable, what with the KBO regular season underway, that comparison falls apart when you see how differently South Korea dealt with COVID-19, enacting aggressive tracking and tracing measures that make our stay-at-home mandates, dreaded by many, seem like Woodstock in 1969. The situation there stands as so under control that players don’t get tested for coronavirus unless they become symptomatic. Daily temperature checks constitute the entirety of the monitoring, in addition to common-sense best practices like feasible social distancing and discouragement of spitting and high fives.
The only other sport that has offered any sort of detailed coronavirus protocol is the Professional Golf Association, whose participants and their caddies can more easily keep their distance.
Hence Manfred puts his legacy on the line without certainty that the sport can avoid catastrophe.
Kim, however, thinks this can work and that it’s safe to keep playing even if someone gets sidelined with COVID-19. Said Kim: ”You have to remember, they’re traveling, they’re healthy. They have a much more vigilant sense of hand hygiene [than a couple of months ago]. They won’t be sharing drinks. If you sneeze, people are going to look at you.
“The other question is, what are [the players] going to do when they do go to those [road] cities? Are they doing things they’re not supposed to be doing?” Limited openings could mitigate the amount of trouble players can find, Kim noted with a laugh.
The number of positive tests are coming down, Kim pointed out, and he expressed a belief that even New York City could be ready to host games by MLB’s desired starting date of early July.
Casino, a Fordham graduate who has been treating COVID-19 patients for most of the past two months, expressed more reservations about MLB’s plan for afflicted players.
“My concern is that you’re going to have these players in close proximity,” he said.
If a player tests positive, Casino contended, he might already have spread the disease to others, only for it to not surface instantly.
“There is an incubation period of 2-to-14 days,” Casino said. “Most people [get the virus] in the first 3-to-5 days. That’s a pretty long time from the time of exposure to the time of showing up positive. During that period, how many more people are going to be exposed?”
It’s a question, among many more, the owners and players will continue to discuss, knowing that no one knows anything for sure. That even respected people of medicine possess significantly different levels of confidence that they’ll be able to play ball safely.
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