MLB Players Will Need to Conduct Blood Tests Before Playing Every Game, Says Blue Jays Medical Advisor

MLB players may need to undergo blood tests before every game during the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to one franchise's medical advisor.

Baseball's season has been put on hold since the COVID-19 outbreak ground sports to a halt two months ago.

Opening Day was scheduled for March 26, but as the virus spread across the U.S. the MLB postponed it indefinitely, leaving ballparks desolately empty.

With some of the 50 states slowly beginning to reopen, however, the MLB has been actively exploring plans to resume training as early as next month and get the regular season underway in July.

Before the first pitch can be thrown, however, the league has to implement a strict testing protocol, which may stretch way beyond the swab tests currently carried out in hospitals.

"Before players can return to the playing field, there must be solid protocols and procedures in place," Glenn Copeland, medical advisor for the Toronto Blue Jays and QuestCap tells Newsweek.

"Those procedures include blood testing, the taking of temperature and symptom checks [have to be] done every day before athletes enter the arenas and playing fields. [...] COVID blood and nasal swab testing will be the backbone of all prevention programs."

Widespread testing has been a major stumbling block for major U.S. leagues looking to the wheels moving again.

Health officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of President Donald Trump's coronavirus task force, have highlighted mass testing availability is a non-negotiable requirement.

On Thursday night, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred outlined the testing protocols the league is hoping to implement before the season can resume.

Manfred acknowledged widespread testing was of paramount importance and revealed the MLB intends to test players and team personnel multiple times during a week.

"Our experts are advising us that we don't need a 14-day quarantine," he said during an interview with CNN.

"What we will do is, the positive individual will be removed from the rest of the group. There will be a quarantine arrangement in each facility in each city and we'll do contact tracing for the individuals that we believe there was contact with and we will do point-of-care testing for those individuals, so minimize the likelihood that there's been a spread."

The importance of widespread testing is two-fold. Aside from ensuring players are virus-free on a particular day, it would also allow health and league officials to build up an invaluable database.

"It is important to be able to capture the data of all tests on a day to day basis so that the data can be analyzed and used on a go-forward basis," explains Copeland.

"We need to understand each player's status, whether they have been infected, have any immunity, and their medical status. Until a safe and effective vaccine is found, every player stands the risk of being infected with the virus."

MLB, Chicago White Sox
A general view of Guaranteed Rate Feld, home of the Chicago White Sox, on May 8 in Chicago, Illinois. The 2020 Major League Baseball season is on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Jonathan Daniel/Getty

Earlier this week, Manfred outlined plans for a shortened regular season—down to 82 games from the traditional 162—and explained the league's health protocols were "about 80 pages in length [and] extraordinarily detailed."

The MLB discussed the protocols on a conference call with representatives of the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) and the commissioner was hopeful they could strike a deal with the union.

"We hope that we will be able to convince the vast majority of our players that it's safe to return to work," he told CNN on Thursday.

Providing the players and the league reach an agreement on the health protocols and on the wages—which could prove an altogether thornier issue to resolve after the MLB proposed a 50-50 revenue split over a shortened season—Spring Training should resume next month, with the regular season beginning in July.

The MLB has accepted games will be played behind closed doors—the NBA and the NFL are also planning for games to be held without fans for the foreseeable future—and it intends to play in states where the lockdown has been lifted.

Over the weekend, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that the league hoped to open as many ballparks as possible, but teams would be limited to face opponents only from their own division and the same geographic division in the opposite league.

While playing behind closed doors would significantly limit the threat of players getting infected, the proposed return isn't entirely risk-free.

"Players must understand that it is their responsibility to self regulate, including social distancing and all other necessary requirements, to keep them as healthy as possible," Copeland, whose company has consulted with approximately 20 teams in the MLB, NHL and NBA explains.

The MLB knows it will have to adapt upon returning, but clubs are wary an already difficult financial situation could worsen if the baseball doesn't return soon.

As things stand, owners expect each club to lose approximately $125 million should the season be cancelled. Paradoxically, the losses would be even bigger should baseball return only to be forced into a second lockdown before the postseason.

In that scenario, losses could stand at approximately $150 million per team—gate receipts account for 50 percent of a team's revenue, while national TV deals are extremely lucrative for teams that reach the postseason.

The potential financial hit hangs like a sword over the clubs' heads and is why owners have pushed the MLB to work towards a 50-50 revenue split. Predictably, the proposal has gone down like a lead balloon with players and the MLBPA is expected to nix it.

When and if baseball does eventually return, coronavirus will remain top of the agenda until a vaccine is found.

The nightmare scenario for the MLB and other professional leagues is a player testing positive and forcing them to shut down. The NBA has been suspended since March 11, when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert became the first player to test positive to COVID-19.

"Every COVID case would be evaluated and determined as to the cause of the positive test," Copeland explains.

"If, however, one case leads to a number of associated players testing positive each respective league would have to evaluate the cause of the outbreak and, if necessary, take all the appropriate actions to prevent any further outbreak or spread."

As of Friday morning, over 1.41 million cases of coronavirus have been reported in the U.S., by far the highest tally of any country in the world.

Over 85,900 deaths have been recorded in the U.S. and over 246,000 people have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking the outbreak using combined data sources. The graphic below, provided by Statista, shows the states with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

covid states 10 may 15
A chart showing the ten states across the U.S. with the most coronavirus cases. Statista

Almost 305,000 people have died globally since the outbreak of coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, a city located in China's central Hubei province, late last year. There have been over 4.4 million confirmed cases globally.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, shows the countries with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

covid countries 10 may 15
This chart shows the countries with the most confirmed COVID-19 cases. Statista

Uncommon Knowledge

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

About the writer

Dan Cancian is currently a reporter for Newsweek based in London, England. Prior to joining Newsweek in January 2018, he was a news and business reporter at International Business Times UK. Dan has also written for The Guardian and The Observer. 

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