1:30pm: The Athletics and Giants have issued statements regarding the coronavirus. An exhibition game between the two that was scheduled to take place at Oracle Park on March 24 has been canceled, the Giants announced. The two clubs are looking into alternate settings.
Meanwhile, the A’s, who are scheduled to open the season at home with a four-game series against the Twins, announced that they will “adhere to any government directives and work with Major League Baseball on all alternative arrangements.” It seems overwhelmingly likely that the series will be played in a different setting than expected — be it a new location or an empty stadium.
12:25pm: As the coronavirus continues to sweep across the globe, it is increasingly apparent that staging Major League Baseball games in the manner anticipated will simply not occur. Already today we have seen several major developments in the response to the deadly disease.
This story is far bigger than sports. But sports have an essential role to play, both in forestalling transmissions that can occur in large gatherings and in signaling the need for community-level precautions.
Today, the World Health Organization formally designated the coronavirus a pandemic. WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that nations “can turn the tide,” but warned not only of “the alarming levels of spread and severity” but also “the alarming levels of inaction” around the globe.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases, addressed the matter in relation to basketball. The Ivy League has canceled its conference tournament but others remain on schedule along with the NCAA tourney. And while the NBA has begun preparing for disruption, it hasn’t yet acted.
Fauci says the outbreak is “going to get worse” and left no doubt he sees a need to curtail large-scale gatherings, at minimum in areas in which community spread has been detected. “We would recommend that there not be large crowds,” he said. “If that means not having any people in the audience when the NBA plays, so be it.”
American municipalities are increasingly acting upon the evident need to slow the spread of the coronavirus to limit the strain on health systems to the extent possible. Some of those decisions could directly force MLB to change its plans. To this point the league has instituted various minor changes to regular Spring Training rules — media accessibility, fan interaction, non-essential personnel being kept from traveling or appearing in the clubhouse — but has not limited Spring Training contests or changed its schedule for the upcoming regular season.
The league has indicated an awareness of the gravity of the situation and acknowledged the “fluidity” inherent to it. As the dangers become all the more evident, one might hope that the urgency of the matter will lead the league to taking a proactive, leadership position.
With Seattle serving as one epicenter of the outbreak in the United States, it is now all but certain that the Mariners won’t play there as planned to begin the season. The team now expects its first two home series to be prohibited by decree of the governor, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports on Twitter.
It’s quite likely this is the tip of the iceberg, in Seattle and elsewhere. We’ve seen concepts floated of moving games scheduled for Seattle to Arizona, but that’s premised on the highly questionable premise that it’ll be safe to stage such massive gatherings anywhere within the next several weeks.
Other municipalities are also moving in a similar direction, with more sure to follow as evidence of the virus’s spread increases. San Francisco has banned gatherings of over one thousand people for at least the next two weeks, Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets. Washington, DC has recommended cancellations of gatherings of one thousand or more people. That was the same guidance issued yesterday by San Francisco; the city boosted it to an outright prohibition after the NBA’s Warriors held a home game.
Whatever the annoyances or disappointments, they’re designed to avoid the awful situations we’ve already seen unfold in China, Italy, and other places. Experts have explained the critical importance of “social distancing” measures to prevent the rapid spread of the disease, which is far more deadly and damaging when overburdened health systems struggle to provide adequate treatment.