Major League Baseball has updated its COVID-19 protocols for vaccinated Tiers 1 and 2 personnel (including players and coaches), reports Britt Ghiroli of the Athletic (Twitter link). Most notably, fully vaccinated individuals will no longer be tested for COVID-19 unless they have symptoms of or have been exposed to the virus.
The handling of fully vaccinated individuals drew some attention last month after Nationals starter Erick Fedde tested positive for the coronavirus. Fedde, who had been fully vaccinated and was asymptomatic, was forced to go on the injured list. (Between his initial isolation period and subsequent rehab, he ultimately missed just over three weeks of action). Teammate Max Scherzer, the Nationals MLBPA representative and a member of the union’s executive board, called for the league to update the protocols in light of Fedde’s situation.
“We got to update the rules here,” Scherzer said at the time. “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.”
Without regular testing for asymptomatic, vaccinated individuals, MLB is leaving open the possibility of players who have breakthrough (post-vaccine) infections remaining in clubhouses and on the field. The CDC cautions that “vaccinated people could potentially still become infected and spread the virus to others” but also notes that studies have shown early evidence of “reduced viral load in vaccinated people who develop COVID-19,” which could reduce the likelihood of transmission to others even if a vaccinated person does contract the virus.
The league relaxed various on-field protocols for vaccinated individuals, Ghiroli reports. Fully vaccinated individuals are now exempt from wearing masks in dugouts and bullpens. (Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated players are still required to wear masks unless their teams reach the 85% vaccination threshold among Tier 1 personnel to reduce restrictions team-wide). Fully vaccinated players are also now permitted to dine indoors and work out at club facilities without receiving advance permission.