Testing trends tracked up again yesterday, with the positive case rate reaching new lows. That doesn’t mean the virus is not still spreading (we aren’t really going to have a handle on that for several more weeks after states relax restrictions and people begin getting out and about more). But it does mean that we’re getting closer to a point where the testing levels will meet the needs required by a program designed to isolate and limit outbreaks. The CDC’s new guidance places emphasis on seeing total cases decrease AND seeing the rate of positive tests decrease.
On the more dour news side of things, there was a good bit of pushback on the level of optimism we can associate with the Moderna vaccine Phase 1 results. Although how the news release from Moderna was framed (and their apparent acceleration of the timetable for the testing of that particular vaccine) did offer the things you’d look for in a possible COVID-19 vaccine, there was simply not enough there in the data to actually know what we were seeing.
Now that I’ve read a little more, I can better understand what we were and were not getting from the company. In an imperfect, but contextualized parallel: it’s as if a disappointing batter underwent some offseason swing changes, and the team issued a press release saying that, after deploying the swing changes, various indicators of future production improved. OK, that’s what we want to see, but … what indicators, precisely? And how much did they improve? And how are you defining improve? And are the improvements actually translating to on-field results? If so, how much? Are the changes actually sustainable? And so on and so forth. It’s not hard to imagine that there is a whole lot of play available with the words there, and from much of the scientific community, that is apparently the source of significant caution when it comes to taking too much away from Moderna’s announcement just yet.
We all want to see a vaccine as soon as possible. Many in the scientific and medical worlds are optimistic that it will happen eventually. But I do think it’s important to keep in mind that (1) we’re still going to have to live a whole lot of life before that happens, and (2) nothing is guaranteed. I choose to be optimistic, but I also know that I have to figure out what to do with my life in a world where COVID-19 still exists.
Baseball’s Road to a Safe Return
You will want to read this lengthy piece at ESPN about baseball’s charted return, and the many layers of health/safety considerations that go into it. I don’t know that it raises new issues – broadly speaking – that you haven’t considered before, but it does bundle it all up in a way that underscores the scope of challenges AND the risks that cannot realistically be planned away.
The health and safety of the players matters. The health and safety of all other personnel – many of whom are at much greater risk – matters. The availability of testing matters. The money matters. The jobs matter. The mental health matters. The modeling matters. It all matters, and it doesn’t all urge movement in the same direction. If this were as easy, we wouldn’t spend days and weeks and months taking about it.
The balance of considerations is constant, and summed up in the conclusion:
Many local officials interviewed by ESPN said they supported baseball’s attempts to return but cautioned that there will be several challenges. Dr. Shah, the public health director in Houston, said he believes a balance can be achieved between health and safety and “the incredible mental health, spiritual and emotional health that a lot of people” derive from sports.
“The stakes are very high: If we do this well, then the country benefits because it feels like life is getting back to some level of where we want it to be,” he said. “But if we do this unwell, unfortunately, it can set not just MLB back, it can actually set our communities back.
“I would hope that saving lives becomes the primary focus and not just saving runs.”
Colorado Ready for Sports
You can add Colorado to the recent group of states welcoming pro sports (without fans) back within their borders when the leagues request it:
Exclusive: Gov. Jared Polis OK’s pro games in Colorado when leagues are ready https://t.co/GYWddOUKLG— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) May 19, 2020
At this point, you’re mostly looking at the Midwest as the largest region not to yet have a flurry of states indicate they are open to pro sports when those sports are ready to return. But even there, Governors in Illinois and Ohio, for two examples I’ve seen, have all but indicated they would be open to pro sports returning to the states by the time those sports are realistically going to be aiming to do so.
That is all to say: right or wrong, I do not see state-wide governments in any location being an impediment to sports returning this summer. The only possible exception would be extraterritorial – i.e., sports in Canada, because there is still currently a quarantine order in place for people arriving into the country, and we don’t know how long that will be in place.
The Pandemic and Shutdown Pain
You can expect to see much more of this across sports in the coming weeks, but especially baseball, where most teams said only that they’d keep people on staff through May:
The Angels have informed the majority of their minor league operation, including player development staff, minor league coaches and coordinators, that they will be among those furloughed starting June 1, sources tell The Athletic. https://t.co/8k3pmVao3v— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) May 19, 2020
It’s shitty. There’s no other way to describe it. I’m not an idiot, and I understand that pro sports are businesses that will operate in a way to cut costs when revenues are down. But I think the longer-term costs associated with being shitty to people are higher than the short-term expenses associated with doing good. Baseball wants to talk about being a beacon of hope (or whatever PR bs) when it returns to the field? Fine. Neat. But you could also be a beacon of hope right now, in this moment, by supporting your employees and keeping your organizational processes intact.
Anyway. I’m naive, and the reality is that this is going to happen across virtually all teams, and it’s only going to get worse if there isn’t a deal made to play baseball come June and July.
Speaking of the pain associated with the pandemic, and bad things that will continue to happen:
More sad news for a college baseball program, on the heels of last week’s Bowling Green news. Afraid many more programs are in grave danger.— Aaron Fitt (@aaronfitt) May 18, 2020
Furman’s long history includes five regionals and nine big leaguers, including active big leaguer Jay Jackson of the Brewers. https://t.co/M5LVQ5gjK3
Testing in the Premier League
Across the pond, pro soccer in the UK is getting ready to allow small groups to begin training together. In advance of that, they administered 768 tests to players and personnel, returning just six positives. Those six will be quarantined for seven days before being reevaluated.
The test results are a reminder: of course players and personnel will test positive at some point. The alternative is simply not possible in a world where players and personnel will still be shopping, seeing family, etc. Infections will reach the otherwise closed doors of sports, which is why the key remains: tons of testing – as close to daily as possible – and rapid results.
The Premier League is aiming to restart its season in June.