Baseball season is finally here, but the pandemic is still on the hill. 2021 is the second year these two have met, and the chances for the ball players are not as drastic as last year – some fans were allowed to go back to the stands thanks to rising vaccination rates. However, increasing case numbers, multiple variants and a patchwork of local ordinances stand in the way of traditional normality. Here’s what awaits you during the season.
Covid and sport
2020 has reshaped the sport, giving us some of the most valuable case studies on Covid-19 containment, from the NBA’s zero-case bubble at Disney World and the NHL’s hub campus to the MLB and NFL’s plans for that Hometown. The CDC has even partnered with the NFL for a full analysis of the NFL’s fall 2020 season. Not all efforts were successful – a single high-profile mistake at the end of the World Series earned the LA Dodgers five cases.
How players and staff stay safe
Individual teams are responsible for their own Covid-19 action plans, but there are some standards set by the MLB. In addition to medical staff, the teams have their own coordinators for the prevention of infection controls, compliance officers, officers for the enforcement of face masks, contact tracing officers and contact tracing processing groups.
The most important protective measures are frequent testing, isolating people who test positive, and taking precautions to minimize exposure in and out of the league.
Facial covers and contact tracking tags are worn at all times in club facilities to identify potential exposures. Anyone who tests positive will isolate for at least 10 days, while close contacts must isolate for 7 days and test negative on day 5. These rules are taken seriously and are already having an impact – the Nats had 5 players and one employee missed the opening day.
Outside of league events, players must adhere to strict guidelines based on CDC recommendations. Initially, they are only prohibited from attending meetings indoors and in public places such as restaurants, theaters, and fitness studios. When the full season kicks off and the teams travel, their bladder will contract until championship season when they isolate at their hotel, with a handful of team and exercise-related exceptions
There will also be changes to the rules of the game which can be found here.
ESPN reports that after reaching an 85% vaccination, players and field workers will enjoy relaxed restrictions that allow them to gather indoors, gather maskless among other vaccinated individuals, and travel more freely.
What you will find in a game
Much fewer fans at first. The details vary from state to state and city to city, but it is certain that most stadiums (with a few notable exceptions) will not have their usual capacity. As an example, let’s look at the rules for participating in a Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park.
They will not get close to the players – they are strictly prohibited from direct contact with fans, and no fans are allowed within 12 feet of the dugout or pen.
You must wear face covering to get in, and it can only come off while actively eating and drinking – and only in your seat. Tailgating is a no-go in Philly this year, though rival Dallas Tailgater does in certain, socially distant locations will allow.
To facilitate social distancing, fans are assigned specific entrance gates on their tickets and are allowed to sit in pre-arranged pods. There are variations of this plan in many stages of the country.
What you may not need, according to a memo reported by the LA Times, is Covid-19 testing or vaccinations. These requirements are left to the local authorities and will vary by location. The Phillies and Cowboys, for example, don’t need it either. On the other hand, to take part in a Yankees or Mets game, you need one or the other.
There is a long list of terms and conditions associated with buying a baseball ticket and now there are Covid-19-related ones too. The full list can be found on the MLB website.
What if I am vaccinated?
It’s unlikely that much will change for vaccinated fans. CDC guidelines require masking and social distancing in public even after receiving a vaccine, and many stages are unlikely to relax these rules. However, vaccinated people can have some small advantages, such as the aforementioned waiver of Covid-19 tests before Yankees and Mets games.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said on the MLB website he was confident that full stadiums will be the norm later this year. “I hope by midsummer we will have unrestricted baseball stadiums and full fan access.”
It’s a beautiful vision, but perhaps too optimistic as cases are mounting across the country and experts are warning of further waves.
“We’re an outdoor sport,” Manfred continued. “I think it’s safe or safer to go to outdoor activities. Everyone seems to agree on this. And I think there is a pent-up demand for entertainment products and we will do whatever we can to … take advantage of that. “
Sean Marsala is a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based health journalist. With a passion for technology, he can usually read, surf the Internet, and explore virtual worlds.