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Baseball’s testing protocols already hitting a snag

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Testing will be crucial for baseball to be played.

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Kansas City Royals Summer Workouts Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Baseball players have resumed official workouts with safety and testing protocols in place to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. However in the first week of testing, baseball has already had a few issues that have made it difficult to get players on the field.

Writing at The Athletic, Alex Coffey details how the Oakland Athletics still have yet to hold an official workout due to delays with testing. The samples, obtained from players on Friday, did not arrive at the MLB testing facility in Utah by Saturday, because of the federal holiday, and were not switched to a Sunday delivery to arrive by Monday.

The A’s are far from the only team to suffer delays. The Houston Astros, Los Angeles Angels, and Washington Nationals all cancelled workouts today, and the St. Louis Cardinals delayed their scheduled workout due to delays in testing. The Angels took matters in their own hands after testers failed to show and administered their own tests. Ken Rosenthal reports testers failed to show up for two other clubs as well.

Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant talked to reporters about some of the concerns he had with the testing protocols.

“What we agreed to was testing every other day,” Bryant said. “We have had guys here who showed up on Sunday and hadn’t gotten tested again (until) seven days later. And then you don’t get the results for two days either, so that’s nine days without knowing. I think if we really want this to succeed, we’re going to have to figure that out.”

Under the MLB safety protocols, players are tested initially before the first workout, and then will be tested using saliva collections every other day during the regular season. Players will also be screened twice a day for symptoms and temperature checks. Anyone that tests positive is not allowed to travel or access the facility. A player must test negative twice in a row, be fever-free for at least 72 hours, and be cleared by a doctor before returning.

For baseball to work during a pandemic, it is imperative that players are tested on a regular basis, and that results are obtained quickly. MLB partnered with a Utah lab that was testing for performance-enhancing drugs to pivot to COVID-19 testing, but so far there are issues that need to be worked out.

Already several notable players have tested positive for the coronavirus, including Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon, and Royals catcher Salvador Pérez. Most have been asymptomatic, but Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman has suffered “body aches, headaches, chills and a high fever” due to the virus. A few players have already decided to opt out of playing this year including Dodgers pitcher David Price, Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, Braves outfielder Nick Markakis, and Braves pitcher Felix Hernandez. Angels outfielder Mike Trout is still mulling on whether or not to play and risk exposing his pregnant wife.

This is all uncharted territory, so some snags in procedure should have been expected. But this is an area in which baseball really needs to get it right. Any widespread transmission in a clubhouse could doom the season. Lives are quite literally on the line. The good thing is that the issues are being identified early, well before regular games begin, and teams have been cautious enough to delay workouts until results are obtained. But baseball will need to ensure better protocols for the future, or the whole season may be finished.