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What lessons can other sports learn from MLB's COVID-19 outbreak? 'You have to look at every point of contact to try to have control.'

Jamal Collier, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Baseball

Major League Baseball's fumbling attempt to salvage its season amid a pandemic -- the difficulty of which settled in almost as soon as the season got underway -- is something other sports leagues and businesses around the country are almost certainly keeping a close and wary eye on.

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the sports world in March, the NBA and NHL had already completed most of their seasons, while the NFL season was months away. It left baseball with an entire season to begin and complete without the luxury of excluding some teams like basketball and hockey.

Rather than attempt to secure its players and staff in a controlled environment like the so-called "bubbles" the NBA, WNBA and Major League Soccer created in Florida, MLB became the first sport to try to stage a season safely in home stadiums in a country where the virus is raging.

And the early returns have not inspired confidence.

On opening night, one of the sport's biggest stars on the defending World Series champions was held out after testing positive for the virus, and since then both Juan Soto and the Washington Nationals have been confused by the protocols for him to get back on the field.

At least 21 members of the Miami Marlins organization, including 18 players, reportedly have tested positive for the virus. Over the weekend, the St. Louis Cardinals became the second team to report an outbreak with at least six positive tests, including three for players, and more likley to come according to some ominous reports Sunday.

 

By the season's second weekend, six of 30 teams (20%) had games postponed because of concerns over the virus, and at least three more players -- New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Lorenzo Cain and Marlins second baseman Isan Diaz -- have opted out of playing the rest of the season.

"Baseball really needs to tighten this up significantly to be able to continue to move forward," said Dr. Susan Bleasdale, the medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "That just has to happen; otherwise, it's not feasible. The hard part is whatever happens here is going to determine how the NFL is going to go and how we're going to do other sports. So they have a responsibility."

Other team sports likely will have to confront similar problems soon. NFL teams have opened training camps even while red flags continue to go off. The NBA has been applauded for its success in keeping the virus out of its Orlando bubble so far, but how the league plans to proceed for the 2020-21 season, scheduled to begin in December, remains a much blurrier picture. College campuses have routinely been hot spots for outbreaks, which would leave college football players to navigate that environment before getting on the field.

"Here in Illinois, I think these are part of the reasons why the governor made the high school restrictions now for the high-risk sports for the fall," Bleasdale said. "We're seeing big teams with lots of resources are having challenges, so of course on a small scale it's going to be an issue.

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