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On coronavirus testing, and MLB trying to learn on the fly

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Notes from the first weekend of new spring training

Los Angeles Dodgers first summer camp workout in preparation for the 2020 season due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

Spring training part two — or summer camp, or whatever name you want to call it — began in earnest over the holiday weekend, and it is clear Major League Baseball is finding their way through it as they go.

Through three days of Dodgers camp, Kenley Jansen and A.J. Pollock have yet to report, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts wouldn’t say why.

“I’m not at liberty to disclose, but I have talked to Kenley a couple times in the last week, and I’m hopeful that we’ll see him soon,” Roberts said Sunday. “We haven’t seen A.J. here yet. But the plan is to get in hopefully the camp soon as well.”

Angels manager Joe Maddon said Friday that “nine or 10” players aren’t in camp, but couldn’t disclose whether any players had tested positive. “It’s just protocol,” he said.

Per the collective bargaining agreement, teams are allowed to disclose player injuries that are work-related, like hamstring injuries, forearm tightness, and the myriad of maladies that usually cause missed time or require time on the injured list. But COVID-19, for instance, is considered a non-work-related condition, and teams aren’t allowed to disclose specific medical information in those cases.

So we wait for details, and now that many players have reported, more testing.

“There will be people from time to time that test positive because we’re doing so much testing, and we have protocols in place to deal with those,” Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten said Friday. “So long that it doesn’t go into an outbreak of any kind and as long as we have what I would call an acceptable level of incidence and proper and appropriate treatment of whatever arises, I think we’re gonna be OK. But you know, I guess we’re all learning as we go. And I feel good about the protocols that we have in place so far.”

When asked what an acceptable number of positive tests was, Kasten said he didn’t have a specific number, and that MLB hasn’t provided a specific number.

“As long as our medical experts feel that we are having results that are an acceptable level, it will continue, but I just don’t have a more precise definition,” he said.

Testing

On Friday, MLB and the MLBPA jointly released the first set of league-wide diagnostic COVID-19 test results, noting of 3,185 tests, 38 were positive (1.2 percent), including 31 players and seven staff members. That was supposed to serve as a baseline number after intake testing, but it was also incomplete. The A’s, Brewers, and Giants were among the teams that had not finished their intake testing yet, for instance.

Jesse Dougherty from the Washington Post reported that MLB’s announced results were from Wednesday’s intake testing only, and that at least 40 positive tests from before camp began weren’t included in the results. We’ve seen some of these pre-camp positives reported over the weekend, including D.J. LeMahieu and Luis Cessa of the Yankees, Delino DeShields, Jr. of the Indians, Nick Gordon of the Twins, some from the Brewers, and three unidentified Marlins, to name a few.

“There’s no question we’re going to have a decent number of positive tests in spring training and the season,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said a week before spring training part two began. “To me it’s much more about how quick we are to respond to that, the treatment options, the quarantining part of it, making sure it doesn’t spread among the group.”

We might not know right away which players test positive, though speculation will run rampant over players missing from camp.

Whatever the full league-wide numbers actually are, that will serve as the baseline to see if players and staff become more susceptible to the coronavirus by gathering as a team, even though in the early part of summer camp the groupings have been limited to 5-10 players at a time, and spaced throughout the day.

But it’s not just gathering with teammates at the stadium. Players have lives outside the sport, many with families at home, which widens baseball’s ecosystem.

“There’s a dimension to this that involves more than just the players. It’s wherever they are, when they’re not here. And where those people that they come in contact with are, you know, in the rest of their lives, so it’s complicated. It’s tricky,” Kasten said. “I have a high level of confidence in our players, who have been made to appreciate the seriousness of all this. But as I said, this is a problem that goes far beyond just the players, and we’re aware of that. I think we’re prepared to deal with that in the most responsible, safe and appropriate way.”

The timing of the diagnostic testing is an issue, too. After initial intake testing, all Tier 1 and Tier 2 individuals (this includes players, coaches, training and medical staff, clubhouse staff, baseball operations employees, PR staff, and more) are tested for coronavirus every other day. The operations manual states a “goal of ensuring expedited result reporting (approximately 24 hours) at all times,” though even that could be problematic.

Hypothetically, in season, someone could be positive on Sunday while playing one team, but not get tested until Monday while playing a different team, then find the results Tuesday. That means potentially three teams interacting with said player, and that’s if the testing goes as planned. At least in the early going, timeliness of results hasn’t been the case.

Some Padres also waited over two days over the holiday weekend for test results, per Dennis Lin at The Athletic. Astros catcher Martin Maldonado tweeted Sunday that he was still waiting on his test results.

In addition, Oakland postponed its scheduled full squad workout Sunday because the team was still waiting on Friday test results for position players, per Shayna Rubin at the San Jose Mercury News.

Angels superstar Mike Trout, the best player in baseball, said Friday he wants to play but doesn’t feel all that comfortable doing so. He said if there was an outbreak in the next couple of weeks, he’d reconsider.

“I talked to a lot of guys across the league and they’re texting me a lot. I’m not gonna name any names, but you know, it’s just crazy,” Trout said. “They’re all thinking the same thing is this this is gonna work?”

That’s a question that needs to be answered.