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MLB Mandates Teams Add Protocol Compliance Officer

Paul Steinbach

In an effort to get a handle on coronavirus spread in the wake of nearly half the Miami Marlins becoming infected, Major League Baseball has introduced several new safety measures.

As reported by ESPN, MLB is encouraging players to not leave hotels in road cities except for games, mandating the use of surgical masks instead of cloth masks during travel and requiring every team to travel with a compliance officer who ensures players and staff properly follow the league's protocols. The updated rules were outlined in a memo distributed to teams Tuesday.

Sixteen Marlins players and two staff members have tested positive, as of this writing, causing concern league-wide and scheduling disruption impacting several teams.

ESPN's Jeff Passan reported that nowhere in the 113-page protocol that governs the 2020 MLB season does it explicitly address how the league would handle a coronavirus outbreak, let alone one the magnitude of the Marlins'. "It offers neither a threshold of cases to shut down a team nor a scenario that would cause a pause in the season," Passan wrote. "For a document as detailed and pedantic as MLB's operations manual, the lack of specificity on literally the entire reason for its existence — the presence of a global pandemic — has been a glaring omission, multiple general managers said leading up to the season."

MLB says the protocol is flexible by design, and commissioner Rob Manfred said Monday that it could be strengthen in the coming weeks. 

Some elements of the protocol are unlikely to change, including testing. Currently, on-field personnel, including players, are tested every other day via a saliva sample. The sample is sent to MLB's Utah lab, where it is typically processed within 36 hours. In the case of an outbreak, the lag in testing could be problematic. 

According to Passan, the virus' infiltration of the Marlins this week proved seminal, finally putting a number on the lowest figure baseball is willing to tolerate without shutting down operations at large: 18 positive tests, including 16 players, or 48 percent of those traveling with the team.

MLB's investigation of the Marlins' outbreak is looking into a wide range of factors, from the team's in-stadium behavior — mask wearing, social distancing and other protocol-suggested factors — to the off-field activities of players and staff, according to ESPN's sources. Adherence to protocol elsewhere within the league has been a point of contention, particularly whether all of its elements matter. Players have spent the first week of play spitting, high-fiving, dogpiling and, in the case of the Astros-Dodgers bench-clearing incident Tuesday, ignoring social distancing — and, at least to this point, have stayed coronavirus-free.

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