Intake screening — the process for testing arriving personnel for the novel coronavirus ahead of the opening of camps — is the first item covered in MLB’s 2020 operations manual, the 101-page playbook jointly negotiated by MLB and its players’ union, for navigating a season unlike any other in the sport’s history.
The three-tiered test given at intake screenings — a temperature check, a diagnostic test for the coronavirus using saliva or a nasal swab, and an antibody test using blood samples — will provide the first clear picture of how prevalent the virus is among MLB personnel, a data point that will be closely watched by MLB and team officials.
“It’s just the first phase of many, or the first hurdle of many that has to be cleared,” New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman told reporters. “And once we get past that, it’s on to the next hurdle, which is getting the group that clears the intake ready. [It is a] big challenge that’s going to take all of us involved to do it right.”
Though some players and staff have already reported and gone through intake screening, the vast majority of personnel is expected to be screened Wednesday and Thursday. Only those who test negative will be permitted into the facilities for initial workouts beginning Friday. All personnel is expected to undergo the saliva or nasal swab test every two days for the rest of the season.
And while an overview of the initial data — tests given, positive tests and the rate of positives — could be disclosed as soon as Friday, with periodic updates throughout the season, one important piece of information will not be automatically made public: the identities of players who test positive.
While MLB and the union were still discussing the policy Wednesday, MLB is preparing to move forward with a plan to keep the names of personnel infected by the coronavirus out of the public realm unless the person in question chooses otherwise.
In doing so, according to an MLB spokesman, the sport would be deferring to the wishes of the union and adhering to privacy guidelines under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and baseball’s collective bargaining agreement — the latter of which states:
“For public relations purposes, a Club may disclose the following general information about employment-related injuries: (a) the nature of a Player’s injury, (b) the prognosis and the anticipated length of recovery from the injury, and (c) the treatment and surgical procedures undertaken or anticipated in regard to the injury. For any other medical condition … a Club may disclose only the fact that a medical condition is preventing the Player from rendering services to the Club and the anticipated length of the Player’s absence from the Club.”
Procedurally speaking, a player who tests positive would be placed on a specially created “COVID-19 Related Injured List,” which will be separate from the standard injured list. (Notably, it would not require a positive test for a player to be placed on the covid-19 list; a player with confirmed exposure to the coronavirus or who shows symptoms can also be placed there.)
Publicly, however, a team would reveal only that the player was placed on the injured list. Team officials, of course, would know about the diagnosis and would be required under the terms of the operating manual to initiate contact tracing with people, including teammates, “who had close contact with the infected individual, while maintaining the confidentiality of the infected individual to the extent possible.”
From a practical standpoint, names will almost certainly become public. If, for example, a manager is asked by reporters about the whereabouts of a player who is suddenly absent on a given day, and the manager declines to reveal why the player is missing, the reason would be obvious. And, of course, an individual player can choose on his own to make public his coronavirus diagnosis.
“Somebody would not be available … but we might not be able to speak to why,” Cashman said. “It would be a speculating circumstance.”
The Philadelphia Phillies, who already suffered an outbreak at their Clearwater, Fla., spring training headquarters in which at least seven players tested positive, are expecting some players — “a handful, at minimum,” according to GM Matt Klentak — to open camp on the covid-19 list.
Baseball officials are bracing for dozens if not hundreds of positive diagnoses from intake screening given the sheer number of tests, with up to 1,800 players on active and taxi squad rosters — many of them residing in states such as California, Arizona, Texas and Florida, where there have been spikes in case numbers in recent weeks — plus hundreds of additional staff members.
When the NBA tested players last week ahead of the resumption of its season later this month, the league reported 16 positive tests among 302 players tested. The NHL revealed Tuesday that 26 players have tested positive since voluntary workouts began June 8, from a pool of 250 players and more than 1,450 tests.
“We’re going to have cases — that’s been the expectation … all along,” Baltimore Orioles GM Mike Elias said this week. “We’ll be prepared for it, to contain any situations that occur [and] to keep everyone healthy even when they do test positive. But we all know that we’re heading into a situation that is not without its pitfalls, and we’re going to do the best we can.”
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