And here we go:
Eight more players and two coaches with the Marlins have tested positive for coronavirus, as an outbreak has spread throughout their clubhouse and brought the total cases in recent days to at least 14, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN.
For those who haven’t been giving their rapt attention to the Miami Marlins season so far, on Sunday four players (including that day’s scheduled starting pitcher, Jose Urena) tested positive for the coronavirus that causes Covid, and were quarantined in their Philadelphia hotel. This morning, another eight players tested positive — no names as yet — and the Marlins responded by postponing their home opener that was slated to be played tonight.
Where the outbreak began is still unknown, and possibly unknowable: The Marlins played a road exhibition game in Atlanta last Wednesday, and both of the Braves‘ main catchers subsequently tested positive developed Covid symptoms, but that’s no proof that Marlins players caught it at home plate, or passed it to the Braves catchers at home plate, for that matter. And, of course, Florida itself is teeming with virus; Marlins manager Don Mattingly told the New York Times yesterday that he was looking forward to getting back home because “it feels safer in Miami than anywhere,” which just goes to show how people’s perceptions do not necessarily match reality.
Anyway, this is the existential crisis that MLB, and U.S. sports overall, was hoping to avoid: What happens when an entire team, or at least a large chunk of one, has to be quarantined at once? The Marlins could play by calling up minor leaguers (sorry, players from their “alternate training site”) to fill out their roster, but would they then mingle with players who were exposed to the positive-testing players in recent games? What about the Philadelphia Phillies, who just spent the last three days playing against the Marlins? When a similar situation cropped up in German soccer, the entire team was quarantined for two weeks, but rescheduling two weeks of soccer games is manageable; rescheduling a dozen baseball games would be much, much harder.
This, really, is the problem with all restart plans, whether for sports, schools, or whatever: What do you do when the inevitable positive tests start coming in? Test-and-trace is a broad principle that gives you a bunch of options — you can just keep quarantining individuals as they test positive and never mind those who’ve only been in contact with those who’ve tested positive, you can quarantine everyone with any contacts and accept that that may require shutting down for a while, or you can pick an arbitrary number where you freak out and shut everything down but up until then pretend that everything is fine. (This last one is what MLB appears to be going for.) The next 24 hours is likely to tell us a lot about how not just the baseball season, but reopenings of all kinds are likely to go as the virus continues to rage across the U.S., so watch this space for further developments.
If you get the nasal/throat swab or saliva test, you will get a false negative test result:
- 100% of the time on the day you are exposed to the virus. (There are so few viral particles in your nose or saliva so soon after infection that the test cannot detect them.)
- About 40% of the time if you are tested four days after exposure to the virus.
- About 20% of the time if you develop symptoms and are tested three days after those symptoms started.
So if the Marlins want to ensure that anyone who was exposed to their spate of positive-testing players is safe to go back in the clubhouse, they really should not play any games for another week or two — or at least, only allow players from their taxi squad to play in those. Otherwise they risk having infected but non-positive-testing players infect the rest of the team, including the newly recalled substitutes. This is definitely shaping up to be a thing.