As Games Proceed, MLB And NFL Hope To Keep COVID-19 Cases At Zero

Sep 28, 2020
Originally published on September 28, 2020 8:08 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Wow. It really came and went, didn't it? Major League Baseball ended the regular season yesterday. The sport got through this pandemic-shortened schedule without being in a protective bubble like other leagues. There still could be problems in the postseason, of course. But the NFL, another league not in a bubble, is taking notice here. Here's NPR's Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: It's been a nerve-wracking season for baseball's medical director, Dr. Gary Green, especially at about 10 o'clock each night. That's when he gets the email with the day's coronavirus test results.

GARY GREEN: It's like defusing a bomb, opening that email, just (laughter) waiting to see what the next day is going to be like depending on what the results are.

GOLDMAN: And lately, the results have been really good - zero positives among players for 28 straight days. Compare that to where the game was less than a week into its startup in July.

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ROBIN ROBERTS: We're going to turn now to the baseball season - possibly on the brink. The Miami Marlins' season is now on hold after more players and staff tested positive.

GOLDMAN: The Marlins outbreak, mentioned here on ABC News, was followed by one in St. Louis, which was followed by MLB warning of fines and suspension for breaking COVID-19 protocols. Clubs adopted their own rules. After two Cleveland Indians left the team hotel on a road trip, they were banished to an alternate training site. Again, here's Gary Green.

GREEN: People making bad decisions can really affect not only them, but their families and their teammates and, really, the whole season. So it's been very nice to see how seriously they've all taken it.

GOLDMAN: Adding compliance officers helped - essentially, hall monitors who made sure players behaved on the road. Green says baseball also greatly improved its contact tracing, which helped limit spread. Forty-five games were postponed because of COVID concerns, almost all were played later.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: One 18. Hut (ph).

GOLDMAN: The NFL is three weeks into its non-bubbled season. Teams are playing in their home cities and traveling. And the league's also having success against the virus. The most recent testing of more than 2,400 players returned zero positive results.

THOM MAYER: Well, I'm delighted to see those numbers.

GOLDMAN: Dr. Thom Mayer is the medical director for the NFL Players Association.

MAYER: They were the result of careful planning, understanding it's a risk mitigation not a risk elimination.

GOLDMAN: Football is a perfect storm for transmitting the virus, but only if infected players play. And so far, players have not brought the virus to the field. They're tested daily except game day. Most in the NFL are doing their part to mitigate the risk with a few visible exceptions.

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JON GRUDEN: I'm very sensitive about it, but I'm calling plays. And if I get fined, I will have to pay the fine. But I apologize.

GOLDMAN: Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden was fined $100,000 for not wearing his face mask during a game. His team had to pay 250,000. Mayer notes four other non-mask-wearing head coaches. And their teams also were fined.

MAYER: We can't have one set of protocols for some people and a different one for the people who are putatively leading that club. They should be an example, not someone who's fined.

GOLDMAN: He says as the NFL goes forward, it needs to be ready to adapt and react. Baseball, meanwhile, begins its postseason tomorrow with a chance to build on its COVID success. Neutral game sites in Texas and Southern California will limit travel and contact with those outside the game. But Dr. Gary Green says he won't celebrate until the last out of the World Series, when he won't have to worry about defusing any more emails.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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