Nationals right-handers Erick Fedde and Tanner Rainey were placed on the team’s COVID-related injured list Wednesday after Fedde tested positive for the coronavirus and Rainey was quarantined as a close-contact possibility to Fedde. Since Fedde is asymptomatic and had already received a vaccine, teammate Max Scherzer told reporters (including Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post) that he feels Fedde’s trip to the IL was unnecessary.
“We got to update the rules here,” Scherzer said. “We got to start following the science, listening to what the CDC says, whether this is union or MLB, the people above us. We got to update the protocols here. Vaccinated players are testing positive, they are asymptomatic and should be allowed to play. Plain and simple.”
Beyond just being one of the sport’s biggest names, Scherzer’s opinion carries some extra weight considering that he is both the Nationals’ MLBPA rep and a member of the union’s executive board. The right-hander indicated that he had “reached out to a couple other players across the league” and “we’re all on the same page” that the league’s COVID-19 rules were in need of adjustment.
“Other guys in our clubhouse are thinking the same way, so that’s probably the way we’re thinking across the league. Probably a good amount of players want that to have that be the case,” Scherzer said. “There’s a benefit to taking the vaccine. We got to believe in the science, in that if you’re asymptomatic and you’re vaccinated, then you can play baseball….The vaccinated players should reap the benefits for doing this. This is what we want. We want our players to be vaccinated.”
As Dougherty notes, there is a bit of “gray area” within the guidelines released by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, quite possibly due to the ever-evolving nature of research into COVID-19 and how vaccines can guard against the virus. According to one CDC guideline, a fully-vaccinated person (like Fedde) “should not visit private or public settings if they have tested positive for COVID-19 in the prior 10 days or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.”
However, CDC guidelines also state that a fully-vaccinated person without symptoms (again, like Fedde) can “refrain” from testing or a quarantine “following a known exposure.” As well, the CDC’s website wrote in April that “A growing body of evidence suggests that fully vaccinated people are less likely to have asymptomatic infection and potentially less likely to transmit SARS-CoV-2 to others. However, further investigation is ongoing.”
Major League Baseball has understandably tended to err on the side of caution when it comes to COVID protocols. Even with these rules in place, there have still been multiple COVID cases among individuals within baseball, as well as wider outbreaks among teams — last season’s outbreaks involving the Marlins and Cardinals being the most prominent examples of the latter. Even this season, the Nationals themselves had their first four games postponed due to an outbreak that sent nine players to the COVID-related list, either as close contacts or actual positive cases. The Nats also aren’t one of the 12 teams who have reached the threshold (85 percent vaccination rate) for some health and safety protocols to be relaxed.
It is quite possible that the league will indeed talk with the MLBPA about changing COVID protocols should that list of teams increase from 12 to at least a majority of the league, or until more is known about whether or not vaccinated individuals with COVID-19 indeed pose a lower risk of infection rate. There are league mechanisms in place for some wiggle room within the protocols, however, as Dougherty writes that “MLB and the MLBPA’s joint committee can clear a vaccinated, asymptomatic individual who has received back-to-back negative test results.”