MLB 2021 COVID protocols again include short doubleheaders, extra-inning speed-up rule
As it prepares to begin a second consecutive season in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, Major League Baseball announced agreement with the Players Assn. on a renewed set of health and safety protocols for its teams and players to follow.
Here is a breakdown of some key rules being implemented, based on a copy of MLB’s 2021 108-page Operations Manual obtained by The Times:
Will last season’s seven-inning doubleheaders and modified extra-inning rules return?
Yes to both. The “three batter minimum” rule for pitchers also remains in place, as will the use of taxi squads of up to five players and alternative training sites. Extra innings will begin with a runner at second base.
The league also announced it has waived the limit on the number of pitchers allowed on a team’s active roster and, in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak within a club, will allow teams to add players to their roster without having to waive, outright or option them later.
How often will players be tested?
Players and other “Tier 1” individuals, such as managers, coaches, trainers and those who need direct physical contact with players, will be subject to diagnostic/PCR testing at least every other day once spring training begins. They will also undergo daily symptom screenings and temperature checks. Others in each organization, such as other clubhouse and front office staff, will be subject to multiple tests per week.
Before arriving at spring training, all “covered individuals” — the term used for those to which the protocols apply, including players and other Tier 1 members — must also complete a five-day at-home quarantine.
MLB will offer free tests to individuals who reside in the same household as covered individuals on at least a weekly basis whenever a team is at home.
In addition to conducting 954,830 coronavirus tests on more than 7,000 people a week, the NFL also used trackers to keep players and team staff safe.
What if a player tests positive?
In the event of a confirmed positive test, the individual will be required to self-isolate from the team.
Symptomatic individuals will not be permitted to return to team facilities for at least 10 days from when their symptoms first appeared. They must also go at least 24 hours without a fever, have seen their other symptoms improve, complete a cardiac evaluation and received approval from a team physician as well as the league’s Joint COVID-19 Health and Safety Committee.
Asymptomatic individuals will be required to isolate for at least 10 days from the date of their initial positive PCR test. They also will have to complete a cardiac evaluation and receive the proper approvals before returning.
Any individuals exhibiting symptoms will be required to isolate until they have taken both a normal PCR test and expedited diagnostic test to confirm whether or not they are positive.
What about contact tracing?
Each MLB team must designate one employee as a “contact tracing officer” and establish a “contact tracing working group.” To facilitate the process, all covered individuals must wear a Kinexon contact tracing device at all times while inside club facilities.
The 2021 MLB season will again feature seven-inning doubleheaders and runners on second base to start extra innings under approved health protocols.
In the event of a positive test within a team, anyone deemed to have come into “close contact” with the individual who tested positive will be subject to a mandatory seven-day quarantine. They won’t be allowed to return to club facilities until they have tested negative on the fifth day or later of their quarantine and they present as completely asymptomatic.
The manual also establishes protocols for “extra scrutiny contacts,” those who had some significant interaction with an infected individual but weren’t deemed to be “close contacts.” Those individuals will be required to take an expedited diagnostic test.
What can players do away from the field?
The league loosened its protocols for this season ever so slightly.
Many activities remained banned, including indoor gatherings of 10 or more people; indoor dining at restaurants, bars or lounges; training at gyms or fitness and wellness centers not affiliated with or approved by MLB or a team; at-home sessions with personal trainers; and entertainment and gaming venues such as concerts, clubs, movie theaters, casinos and bowling alleys.
While on the road, members of a team’s traveling party can’t leave their hotel except for transportation to the ballpark, outdoor walks or exercise, or other low-risk outdoor activities. Inside the hotel, team members are not allowed in one another’s rooms.
Outdoor dining on the road will be allowed at restaurants, but not at bars or lounges. Individuals can also meet with members of their household or family members outside as long as it is within the vicinity of the hotel.
Any team members who don’t comply with the rules laid out in the code of conduct could face suspensions or forfeiture of salary for any days they spend away from the team while in isolation or quarantine resulting from the violation.
Times staff writer Bill Shaikin contributed to this report.
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