So MLB has come up with its response to the Miami Marlins coronavirus hot spot, which is to place the team’s season “on pause,” after which they’ll be able to resume their schedule, maybe, if they don’t have any more new positive tests by then. (The Philadelphia Phillies, who have no positive player tests but just played against the Marlins, are on pause through tomorrow.) It’s not precisely what epidemiologists were shouting at the league to do on Twitter, but it’s pretty close, and could end up being the two-week team quarantine scientists were asking for if the Marlins outbreak continues; maybe public shaming isn’t entirely counterproductive as a public health measure after all.
What are the lessons we’ve learned from this still-unfolding mess? Here are a few:
- Notwithstanding Bob Nightengale’s speculation that some players caused this by going out on the town last week in Atlanta, we still have no idea when or how the first Marlins got infected, or in which city. And despite more speculation that it had to do with two catchers for the Atlanta Braves coming down with Covid symptoms (but not testing positive) shortly after the Braves played the Marlins last week, the fact that no Phillies have tested positive (yet) after three games against the Marlins last weekend, with the sole exception of the visiting clubhouse attendant, is a strong suggestion that this continues to be a virus that spreads mostly indoors, so playing the games themselves probably isn’t a huge risk. (How to play games without everyone on a team being in the same room together at any one point remains a knotty question, though with empty stadiums, maybe they could each go to their own individual concourse restroom to get changed or something?)
- Attempts to stem any outbreaks by drawing a hard line between those who test positive and those who don’t and declaring the latter to be safe to be around is a really bad idea, both because it can take a few days for people to test positive after infection, and because the tests themselves remain frustratingly inaccurate: The Washington Nationals‘ Juan Soto was stuck in quarantine for several days while his test results kept alternating positive and negative results. The solution, as everyone learned (well, should have learned) during the height of the AIDS crisis, is universal precautions: Treat everyone as potentially contagious, and take measures — social distancing, masks, nobody together in confined spaces, all the rest — to make it as hard as possible for an undiagnosed carrier to spread the virus. (At the same time you still want to quarantine those you’re sure have it, at least until someone invents foolproof Covid condoms.) That’s something that’s not really being done in baseball right now, as witness all the high-fiving and fist-bumping still going on, and while that won’t necessarily lead to further outbreaks — not every game of Russian roulette ends with somebody getting shot — it’s a bad sign that players and coaches are relying on some Maginot line of testing to protect them instead of also changing their behavior.
- The Los Angeles Times has drawn the conclusion that MLS is handling this better than MLB, because the former was able to continue its season by removing two teams from its league-wide tournament, while MLB is a failure because it had to remove two teams from its schedule temporarily … I’m not actually sure where they’re going with this, though “bubbles are safer than non-bubbles if you can keep everyone within them from getting bored to tears” is certainly an uncontroversial finding.
Tl;dr: To stop a pandemic, keep known infectious people away from infecting others, and treat everyone else as at least potentially infectious, too. It’s why everyone would look better wearing a mask, because even if you think you’re safe, that’s what some nameless Marlin thought a week ago, too, before turning into baseball’s Patient Zero.