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Pandemic Baseball Chronicles: The Indians should be quarantined

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Even though that will hurt the Cubs

Mike Clevinger pitches against the Reds on August 5
Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

The Cubs have been idle for the last four days. Monday was a scheduled off day, but their weekend series against the Cardinals was postponed due to COVID-19. I want to walk through the specifics of why that occurred, because based on reporting about the Cleveland Indians that came out late Monday it seems pretty clear to me that MLB should postpone that series too, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

To recap, the Cardinals had an outbreak that began with three players, and eventually spread to 16 members of their traveling crew. They thought they had shut it down after hunkering down in the haunted Milwaukee hotel for a few days because MLB and the Cardinals seemed to believe two days with no players testing positive for COVID-19 and/or five days of quarantine meant they were good to go.

I am going to pause here to quote what we know about the COVID-19 incubation period from Johns Hopkins:

An analysis of publicly available data on infections from the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes the respiratory illness COVID-19 yielded an estimate of 5.1 days for the median disease incubation period, according to a new study led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. This median time from exposure to onset of symptoms suggests that the 14-day quarantine period used by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for individuals with likely exposure to the coronavirus is reasonable.

The analysis suggests that about 97.5 percent of people who develop symptoms of SARS-CoV-2 infection will do so within 11.5 days of exposure. The researchers estimated that for every 10,000 individuals quarantined for 14 days, only about 101 would develop symptoms after being released from quarantine.

I have no idea where MLB got the idea that two (ish) days with frequent testing would put teams in the clear. There is no evidence of that. Let’s give MLB the benefit of the doubt and presume they were going off the time Cardinals players were isolated rather than the time between positive tests. That still puts them at five days. Even if someone wanted to be very generous and use the above data to say well, half (ish) of the cases will be revealed in 5.1 days, that still means half the cases will be revealed AFTER five days.

But MLB and the Cardinals were itching to get back on the field. So they did a very silly thing. They took every player who hadn’t yet tested positive, put them on a plane and headed back to St. Louis. In case anyone is wondering, air travel may be one of the riskiest things you can do in the COVID era. This isn’t me spitballing, this is according to an article that references CDC guidelines and Dr. Sandra Kesh (emphasis mine):

Unless it’s absolutely necessary, you should avoid air travel until there is a vaccine or treatment for the virus. According to Kesh, it’s among one of the riskiest situations to put yourself in when it comes to exposure to COVID-19.

It continues...

Once you are on the plane, it’s almost impossible to stay six feet apart from others, even if no one is sitting near you. “When you’re sitting on a plane waiting for it to take off, there is no air movement. If you turn on the fan above your head, that’s the only air moving. It’s a really terrific environment for one person to potentially infect the whole plane,” Kesh says.

So it really wasn’t shocking at all that two days later they had another positive case and had to shut the whole thing down.

I am not trying to rehash the whole Cardinals thing. Baseball is better when the Cubs and Cardinals can safely play each other and fight it out for the NL Central title. I bring this up because it would appear that the Cubs next opponent currently finds themselves in a position sickeningly similar to the Cardinals, although admittedly without actual positive COVID-19 tests.

Two days ago the Indians sent pitcher Zach Plesac home after he violated MLB’s health and safety protocols by leaving the hotel to hang out with friends in Chicago after his start against the White Sox. Here is the story according to ESPN (emphasis mine):

Zach Plesac understood the importance of players’ behaving in order for baseball to have its season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

He broke the rules anyway.

The Indians sent Plesac back to Cleveland in a car service on Sunday after the young right-hander violated team rules and Major League Baseball’s COVID-19 protocols.

The 25-year-old Plesac went out with friends on Saturday in Chicago, following his team’s win against the Chicago White Sox.

The team got Plesac a car so he wouldn’t be on a plane with teammates and staff in case he contracted the virus.

The rest of the team got on the plane and flew back to Cleveland to prepare for their upcoming two-game series against the Chicago Cubs. The rest of the team includes pitcher Mike Clevinger... who apparently went out with Zach Plesac:

To recap - we know planes are a hot bed for spreading COVID-19, we know that Plesac was driven to Cleveland to keep him off the team plane, and we know that Clevinger has the same amount of exposure to the novel coronavirus as Plesac. So I would like MLB to explain to me why these games are still scheduled, because this looks like a COVID-19 outbreak waiting to happen.

Ironically, Plesac and Clevinger both starred in an Ohio Public Service Announcement about social distancing in March:

Other news and notes

As frequent readers know I find MLB’s “strict” prohibition of fighting to be one of the more laughable rules in the health and safety protocols. It isn’t like fighting was allowed before, so to prohibit it more just seems ineffective. On Sunday night the As and Astros proved my suspicions well-founded. Check out this exceptional breakdown by Jomboy (there are some game thread words in the breakdown):

Lastly, after years of watching players wait out the service time of their minor league talent in the name of defense I have to admit I was amused to see Mets starter Marcus Stroman turn the tables on the owners just this once. Will Middlebrooks agreed:

Finally, in case you missed it the Cubs have been one of the best teams at going above and beyond to ensure their players can social distance on the road. They’ve worked hard to eliminate the temptation of leaving the hotel according to this piece in the Athletic by Marc Carig and Patrick Mooney:

Every team can make that appeal and stress the importance of being cautious to help protect loved ones at home. But the Cubs didn’t want to totally rely on self-policing and the economic incentives in the arbitration system and the free-agent market.

With the travel industry decimated, the Cubs shopped for hotels with outdoor space that could be turned into an open-air lounge for the duration of their stays. Instead of sitting in their rooms, players and staffers could eat, hang out and make phone calls in those patio areas. In addition to meal money, the team is supplying three boxed meals a day on the road.

Instead of the usual early bus and late bus, the Cubs are scheduling buses to run at 20-minute intervals to avoid crowding during those rides, cut down on extra time at the ballpark and eliminate the need for ride-sharing services or private transportation.

“It comes from the top,” said Ian Happ, the union representative for the Cubs. “It comes from what the Ricketts family was willing to provide for us, which was everything and anything we could have possibly needed to make it through this. Theo and (GM) Jed (Hoyer) did a great job of thinking through what we would need. The way that the entire staff has operated, the way that they’ve been compliant … everything from top to bottom has been super-professional. And I think that’s why we’re ahead on a lot of those things.”

This was an outstanding move by the Ricketts and the baseball operations team. I appreciate that the Cubs are trying to set themselves up for success on the road, even if it cost a bit more and requires more planning. Here’s hoping these extra steps for the players continues to translate to success in the shortened pandemic baseball season.