The pandemic is still quite bad, even as national events serve to distract us from what was otherwise entirely at the fore of our minds for the last 10+ months. As expected after the holidays, the seven-day moving average of confirmed daily cases in the country has reached a new high, surpassing 250,000 yesterday. The seven-day moving average of daily deaths is also now at a high, surpassing 3,300.
It is possible to see a future without the pandemic thanks to the multiple vaccines now in distribution, however, and with the MLB season approaching rapidly, the league has had to confront this confluence once again: although they know they can play games during the pandemic, can they have fans come to watch?
The answer is almost certainly going to be a very limited “yes” by the time games begin in April, but it won’t include mandates from the league on fan testing and vaccination as a precondition for attendance:
NEWS: The MLB 2021 fan plan: No mandate for vaccines or COVID-19 tests https://t.co/4MCi6ibQB6
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) January 12, 2021
Teams may individually make decisions on testing and vaccines, but the league will not impose those requirements as a condition for play this season.
Instead of testing or vaccine mandates, the league expects to follow state and local guidelines on gatherings at the time games begin, plus mandatory masking, “pod” seating, social distances, etc. Basically, it’ll be like the NFL season has been and how the World Series was: if you’re permitted fans in attendance by your local authorities, then you can do it, but there will be distancing and masking. So far, we don’t have any indication that sporting events with these requirements led to more spread than was otherwise going on in a community … but let’s be honest: the outbreaks are so substantial right now it would be kinda hard to tell.
Technologically and logistically, having every fan tested there at the park is not practical (and could create an appearance of safety that is not actually existent). Testing days in advance could create the same problems given the incubation period. I’m better with leagues just following local guidance on the front, and having folks just presume that they could be asymptomatic carriers, and thus to comport themselves accordingly.
As far as the vaccine goes, I’ll admit it: I would prefer that everyone who is safely able to do so goes and gets the vaccine when it’s available. That’s they way we, collectively, stamp this thing out by developing herd immunity. Thus, having a requirement in place for you to go do some things that you love might be a great incentive for us to do it (to say nothing of making the game environment as safe as possible). Does it actually work, though? What about the necessary exceptions for people who legitimately cannot receive the vaccine? And then the inevitable fights with people who say they can’t or won’t get it for … less scientifically supported reasons? What about religious grounds? Are there religious grounds? Is it legal to precondition attendance on a vaccine? I don’t know the answers to these questions, and although I don’t want to pretend as though they CANNOT be answered, I do think it creates a situation that is a little more tricky than it seems at first blush. Again, teams will be permitted to create their own requirements, but if the league isn’t mandating it, I suspect no team will take the extra step.
So, I guess for now I land on: I hope everyone who can get vaccinated does, and you better believe I’m getting it as soon as I’m eligible, regardless of baseball attendance.
Speaking of which, there is a report out today that the current administration – and to be followed by the next – is going to open things up on the vaccine front significantly based on logistical and scientific input about how the last month has gone:
The Trump administration’s plan to speed up vaccinations:
– open the door to everyone who’s 65 and older or has a comorbidity
– involve community health centers in distribution
– no holding back second doses https://t.co/zt9PMk5B5i
— Sam Baker (@sam_baker) January 12, 2021
In theory, this would allow more people in general to get the first dose of the vaccine as soon as possible, but also would allow those at the highest risk (older and/or pre-existing conditions) to get the vaccine much sooner than under previous timelines. That, in turn, could reduce the most dangerous aspect of the pandemic (i.e., the fact that it kills a lot of people in those two groups) within a matter of months.
Although it is far from the most important part of that news, you would then see the plausibility of having large attendance at baseball games for a majority of the originally-scheduled season grow substantially. That makes me wonder about the timing of MLB’s announcement that teams should plan on an on-time start to Spring Training and a full schedule this year, and about the White Sox signing Liam Hendriks to a monster contract at the same time. Is there just kind of a growing of optimism with respect to what this season can be?