So, I am excited that baseball might not be canceled for the season. For starters, I love baseball. Secondly, America could use its national pastime to get things back on track. Sure, we need to be smart and safe. Sound science and public health must be of paramount concern. But am I missing something?
Dr. Anthony Fauci recently told reporters, “Nobody comes to the stadium. Put [the players] in big hotels, wherever you want to play, keep them very well surveilled. … Have them tested every single week and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family, and just let them play the season out.” ESPN wrote about the public health experts comments: https://www.espn.com/espn/story/_/id/29038491/dr-anthony-fauci-promotes-single-site-fan-free-return-sports.
I get the whole no fans thing. I understand reducing travel and having everyone in one or a few cities. I understand reducing physical contact (as much as possible) and testing players. I understand waiting until testing of players and MLB personnel doesn’t put a strain on essential medical testing.
What I don’t get is the whole put everyone in hotels and keeping them from their families notion. Let me get this straight? You have a bunch of world-class athletes who are mostly in their 20s and 30s. Most are in pretty good physical shape with limited high-risk health factors for COVID-19.
Many MLB players have young families. I doubt their wives are going to be excited about being quarantined from their husbands for months. While COVID-19 can impact younger people, everything I have seen suggested that the highest risk is for people over 50 years old and with health conditions. The virus mostly has limited impact on children and teens.
So, the people who are most at risk in MLB are the owners, managers, coaches and other club personnel. MLB can take precautions to reduce their exposure to players and other people. More meetings can be held remotely using technology. Managers or coaches can stay in the stands or in a booth away from players. MLB could install phones that are monitored to allow greater communications when physical distance prevents sign communications. And if somebody is a player or other club personnel with adverse health risks, extra precautions can be taken for them including masks, barriers, etc. If someone is really concerned about the health risk, they can take sick leave or work out other arrangements with the MLB club. Balls and strikes would be called by robo umpires. DH for both leagues to reduce impact on pitchers and allow for a compressed schedule.
Players can move to Arizona for 2-5 months with their families. They would probably rather rent homes instead of be in hotel rooms. But they could do that too if they would prefer. The social and psychological impact of being separated from families for months would likely be an incentive for them to agree to social distance restrictions for their families as long as they can still work and still be with their families. Most players and baseball personnel probably want to get back to work if possible. And I think they would probably rather take the COVID-19 risk than be separated for months from their families.
MLB could set up a COVID-19 testing and treatment facility in Arizona to handle testing and care for players and club personnel and MLB staff. MLB would monitor everyone in the baseball bubble and enforce guidelines, such as compliance with statewide social distancing and other best practices. Families of those in the baseball bubble may have to abide by strict social distancing for those outside of the baseball bubble. But these restrictions would be reduced as it makes sense. Players and personnel who test positive would be treated and put in quarantine for the appropriate time period. MLB baseball could also require anyone in the bubble to be tested or quarantined if any family in the bubble develop COVID-19 symptoms.
Likely a bunch of players will come down with the virus although most will have minimal symptoms. That is why MLB clubs should add another 4-10 players on the active roster to fill in gaps.
Forcing players and club personnel to separate from their families seems like a safety precaution that won’t significantly reduce public health risks of the baseball bubble. At the same time, it would put significant life, family and psychological strain on everyone involved. Why put in rules that don’t really make everyone safer if it damages the quality of life?
Baseball is important. But family is more important. I believe that MLB can find a way to protect the health of everyone in the bubble while allowing players to play ball and stay with their families. Sure, there will be risks. But there are risks no matter what you decide with COVID-19.
Basically, I like a lot of the ideas being suggested in the Arizona plan; I would just expand the bubble to include families. This may mean more transmission in the bubble, but that may be hard to stop regardless.