July 27, 2020

Despite A "Clear Outbreak" Of SARS-CoV-2, Marlins Played Phillies On Sunday;
Now 14 Players/Coaches Have Tested Positive, Games Postponed In Miami & Philadelphia;
MLB's Entire Website Pretending These Positive Tests Do Not Exist

Despite four positive tests, including three yesterday, the Miami Marlins went ahead and played the Phillies on Sunday. Today, the Marlins learned of 10 more positive tests.

40% of the Marlins' roster has tested positive.

The Marlins' home opener, scheduled for tonight against the Orioles, has been postponed. Tonight's Yankees-Phillies game in Philadelphia has also been postponed. The Orioles have returned to Baltimore, so it's likely Tuesday's games in both cities will also be postponed.

MLB's website includes a link to a statement concerning the cancellations, but nothing about the 14 positive tests. Anyone looking at the Marlins' official webpage would assume everything is completely normal and wonderful. Every news outlet is reporting on this huge story except MLB.

MLB's statement avoids mentioning the positive tests, saying only that the games are postponed "due to COVID-19 concerns". MLB's lack of transparency and refusal to report essential and newsworthy information does not inspire trust that Commissioner Rob Manfred will act appropriately concerning this crisis.

The four positive tests met the definition of a "clear outbreak" and should have resulted in the team shutting itself down. The Marlins received news of 10 additional positive tests today (seven players and two coaches).

Dr. Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist at Emory University's Oxford College, says that by allowing teams to travel and play despite positive tests, MLB is essentially conducting "a real-time experiment in how COVID-19 transfers within the game"

In the words of one team executive, "this whole thing has the makings of MLB's worst nightmare."
Jayson Stark and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic ask: "Why Did The Marlins Play Baseball On Sunday?"
Multiple sources confirmed that the Marlins played despite having three players learn Sunday that they'd tested positive for COVID-19, just two days after a fourth player learned of a positive test on Friday. Two infectious-disease specialists told The Athletic on Sunday that those positive tests fit the definition of a "clear outbreak" of the virus within their team. ...

Marlins manager Don Mattingly said his team "never really considered not playing" on Sunday. The club's most respected veteran, shortstop Miguel Rojas, told the media afterward that all 30 players discussed the situation Sunday morning, but said not playing was "never our mentality."

And sources familiar with MLB protocols said that the league had done full contact tracing following the first positive test, tested all remaining Marlins players and based the decision not to intervene in part on the fact that no other players tested positive or reported symptoms.

Yet that reasoning raised major questions from the two infectious-disease specialists contacted by The Athletic.

"I think that by any definition, this is an outbreak on their team," said Dr. John Swartzburg, a clinical professor emeritus at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health, Division of Infectious Disease. "And an outbreak on a team means that the team needs to close down."

"Earlier, in (summer camp), if you didn't have test results, you didn't practice," said Dr. [Binney]. "So to have four positive results and then play a game just seems totally unaligned with that. ... No. 1 is, if I get a negative result back today, that doesn't mean that I'm negative and not infectious right now. It means I was negative or not infectious when I got that test. If that was yesterday, it means I wasn't infectious yesterday. The other thing is that this disease can take several days to show itself – by which I mean you don't test positive immediately after you've been exposed. You test positive three, five, seven days after you've been exposed. So it's possible that some of these players or staff are incubating the infection right now and could turn up positive when they get the results back from another round of testing, say, in a couple of days."

Swartzberg agreed, saying: "They've got 10 percent or more of their entire (traveling) group positive. That suggests that there's a high probability that more people are going to end up testing positive."

If that's the case, however, it means that those players were allowed to play baseball Sunday, potentially exposing other Marlins players and staff – as well as members of the Phillies – to the virus. ...

What many club officials have long feared is this exact scenario: One player contracts the virus, isn't aware he has been infected and transmits it to others around him before learning he tests positive. Then those other players do the same before they get their own test results. Meanwhile, that team is traveling – leaving its traveling party, opposing teams, hotel workers and others exposed to the virus. ...

"Frankly, I was hoping that we would not see it this rapidly," said Swartzberg, who has taught classes in infectious diseases and pandemics for the last four decades. "But we've been into the season for – what? – less than a week, and we've already seen an outbreak. I think that speaks for itself."

Asked what this says about the chances of baseball getting through this season, Swartzberg replied: "I'll use a medical term. It portends a poor prognosis." And there's a lesson to be heeded from that prognosis, he said.

"The lesson is, in spite of what the Marlins were doing, it didn't work," Swartzberg said. "I'm going to assume the Marlins were following the protocols that the owners and the players have agreed upon … and it failed. It failed in less than 72 hours." ...

Added Binney on Monday, after the additional positive tests were announced, "I've been saying for weeks that 3-4 cases in a few days should be enough to shut down a team. This is exactly why. Three to four cases is unlikely to stay 3-4 cases. Playing the game [Sunday] was stupid and reckless…. The Phillies sent their clubhouse attendants into a hot zone."
ESPN posted a FAQ:
Does the Marlins' outbreak of positive cases put their season in jeopardy?
Of course, but that's why there's a taxi squad of up to 30 players. If the league is going to continue play, then it's next man up, as hard as that might be to believe. There really is no other choice. If the Marlins' season is in jeopardy, then the entire league's is as well. -- Jesse Rogers
What does the Marlins' outbreak mean for the state of the MLB season as a whole?
We'll only be able to answer this accurately with hindsight -- though it looms as a possibility that Monday's news is an inflection point with ramifications not only across the rest of this season, but across all the major team sports endeavoring to attempt what MLB already is trying to pull off. ... [I]t is more than a little disheartening that it came with just 92 games in the books. Baseball couldn't get through its first weekend without a possible nightmare scenario emerging.

First, we await test results for the Phillies and their stadium personnel and the weekend's umpiring crews, among others. We will see just how widely spread the breakout is among the Marlins, and once we do, we will determine if they can plausibly -- and safely -- field a viable active roster from their 60-player pool. ... When we know whether the Marlins can keep playing, we'll know a lot more about the viability of continuing the season. ... It's also important that MLB be transparent with the decisions it makes in reaction to this situation. If the medical experts tell them it's simply too dangerous for the Marlins to keep going, then baseball's newest moment of truth will be at hand. -- Bradford Doolittle
Could this impact other teams beyond the Marlins?
The Marlins played in Atlanta before going to Philadelphia. They played three games against the Phillies, occupying the visiting clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park, where the Yankees were due to take up residence Monday. The Marlins were slated to play the Orioles, who, presumably, are already in Miami. The Braves just finished a three-game series against the Mets, on the heels of their exhibition games against the Marlins. The Mets, meanwhile, are headed to Boston to begin a series Monday night at Fenway Park. Hopefully, this outbreak is confined to the Marlins. However, you can easily see how one team's outbreak could cause the whole house of cards to crumble. ... -- Doolittle
Could the Marlins just bring up players from their taxi squad and keep playing?
Yes, that was the whole point of the taxi squad -- but it might not be feasible if half or more of their roster is infected. It's still the most likely scenario, because the other choice is to shut down. -- Rogers
Why were the Marlins allowed to play the Phillies on Sunday after multiple players tested positive?
There is no rule in place that players can't participate as they await test results. But playing could have been a mistake. That Miami had multiple positives before Sunday's game and the contest went on as scheduled is concerning. Perhaps any time that happens, it should trigger an automatic postponement. Another red flag here is that even if you test every day, people do not necessarily exhibit symptoms or trigger positive tests right away. Inevitably, infected players will take the field without anyone, including themselves, knowing that they have contracted the virus. ... The one step baseball hasn't taken is to make mask-wearing mandatory at all times, even on the field. And while that could be a next step, we don't actually yet know how the Marlins' outbreak began and if some kind of on-field mask mandate would have made a difference. Where did it happen? Airport? Airplane? Bus ride? Hotel lobby? Restroom? -- Doolittle
Could this lead to more players opting out of the season?
Seems likely, but perhaps those who already made the decision to play will be determined to press on. However, given the number of the players, coaches and managers in baseball, there has to be people pondering whether to take the risk. A teamwide outbreak four days into the season could convince a few people that the risk is just too great. -- Doolittle

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