Philadelphia Phillies Fail to Meet MLB COVID-19 Vaccination Threshold
Say goodbye to seat capacity limits. Say goodbye to masking requirements for fully vaccinated fans. Signs of (mostly) normalcy will be everywhere this weekend at Citizens Bank Park.
With the exception of the canoe and the Phillies clubhouse.
Most of the teams – 20, to be precise, according to the latest update from Major League Baseball and MLB Players Association – have reached the league-mandated 85% vaccination threshold that allows them to relax many COVID-19 protocols that limited their activities since before the start of last season. Two more clubs have reached the 85% mark and will be considered fully vaccinated by next week.
The Phillies aren’t here yet and likely won’t be “anytime soon,” manager Joe Girardi said this week.
So, as society reopens around them, the Phillies must continue to abide by a set of restrictions, including social distancing in the clubhouse, masking for all non-players on the field and in the dugout, and strict rules on the road, including no eating inside at restaurants. Even card games in the clubhouse are prohibited.
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“Obviously you would like to have more freedoms,” said Girardi, who is fully vaccinated. “I think we would all do it. I think we are all tired of wearing our masks in certain situations. I would like to go back so I can get back to normal. But that won’t happen, it seems, anytime soon for us, unless Major League Baseball changes some of their protocols.
It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen either.
As the country’s infection rate declines, the commissioner’s office is consulting medical experts and player union leaders on potential protocol adjustments. So far, however, there has been no tendency to loosen up teams that fall below the 85% threshold. After widespread epidemics last year among the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals that caused scheduling disruptions and threatened the integrity of the competition, the MLB is reluctant to let its guard down too much.
And so, Level 1 staff – defined as major league and triple-A players, managers, coaches, coaches and medical staff, and some front-office members – still receive COVID-19 tests regularly. programmed. As of Friday, the MLB and the Players’ Association have reported a total of 64 positive tests since the start of spring training (36 players and 28 staff among 25 teams). But they also announced that 82.9% of all Level 1 staff were considered fully vaccinated and that 85.2% had received at least their first dose of a vaccine.
Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer recently told reporters it was “disappointing” that his team did not hit the 85% mark. But the Phillies have maintained that the vaccination is a personal decision.
Neither Girardi nor baseball operations president Dave Dombrowski are comfortable pushing players or staff to get the shots even as the team have announced they will be giving away two free tickets to 18-year-old fans and more who will receive a free one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine at Citizens Bank Park during next week’s series against the Atlanta Braves.
Some players, including Phillies union rep Rhys Hoskins, have said they plan to get shot when they become eligible. Others, including the closest Héctor Neris, expressed reservations or indicated that they did not intend to be vaccinated. Dombrowski said the players attended a group presentation ahead of a game in Atlanta in April to learn more about the vaccines.
“It’s a personal choice, and I can’t tell a player or a coach, or anyone in our travel group, that you have to get shot,” Girardi said. “I have no frustration. I would say that if there is any frustration it is that I am vaccinated and that I am outside and that I have to wear a mask. It would be my frustration.
“Because the CDC says if you’re vaccinated and you’re out and about go have fun, right?” And since it’s hotter … when it’s cold, the mask isn’t that bad. But since it’s hotter, you don’t really want to have it.
Indeed, as cities across the country reopen, it seems there is a natural temptation for players to want to be outside. Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora, whose squad also failed to hit the 85% mark, recently said he was concerned about having to put players on the COVID-19 shortlist while they were quarantining themselves after breaking protocol on the road.
Girardi does not share this concern, believing that the Phillies are disciplined in their behavior after living with the protocols since last summer.
But Hoyer and others argue that it’s a competitive advantage to reach 85% because it decreases the chances of players being quarantined for contact tracing. The Phillies lost pitchers Matt Moore and José Alvarado for a week in April because they were in contact with someone who tested positive. Moore, who said he was vaccinated, did not regain his place in the starting rotation.
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Girardi said the restrictions do not interfere with the Phillies’ game preparations. While they must wear masks and maintain social distancing during scouting meetings for pitchers and hitters, they get by by meeting in larger indoor spaces.
“The [batting] the cage becomes a fairly large room, ”Girardi said. “It’s not how you want to do it, but we are able to do it.”
Unless the Phillies hit the 85% mark, it’ll have to be that way.
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