The latest pandemic plans for Major League Baseball and the Padres

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Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

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Here is a rundown on the latest pandemic plans for Major League Baseball and the San Diego Padres.

Just about this time last year, Major League Baseball shut down spring training for all clubs, including the Padres, and announced that the season would be delayed by two weeks thanks to a mysterious virus.  Little did we know then about just how dire the situation would become over the course of 2020.  Although the novel coronavirus had reached the country in January, no one could have predicted its profound effects on the world or country, let alone sports schedule.

However, as cases spread and deaths mounted, MLB faced the obvious and shortened the season to 60 games beginning on July 23.  The league also issued guidelines for players and other personnel and instituted testing for the virus.

Thanks to relatively good news on a variety of fronts, including declining case numbers and deaths as well as the development of vaccines, the league envisions a return to the usual 162-game schedule this year.  In San Diego Country, cases began to rise in November and peaked in January at around 4,000 a day.  Since then, case levels have dropped considerably, and the county may soon meet reopening criteria enabling a move from the most restrictive Purple Tier to the Red Tier.

MLB recently announced its health and safety protocols, which will be guided by a Joint COVID-19 Health and Safety Committee made up of representatives from MLB and the Major League Players Association as well as two physicians.  The rise of variant strains remains a concern and must be taken into account.

The team will be required to submit a written plan and appoint a Compliance Officer and a Control Prevention Coordinator.  Frequent tests will be administered, and anyone testing positive will be required to isolate for at least 10 days.

Except when on the field, players and personnel must wear facial coverings.  Once again, lineup cards will not change hands.  Each team can include as many as five Taxi Squad players on road trips.  Otherwise, they will be confined to the designated Alternate Training Site.  Players, managers, and coaches must maintain at least a six-foot distance from umpires and members of the other teams at all times.  Players who have come into contact with infected people will be quarantined for seven days.

While teams can control their players at the ballpark and in the clubhouse, it’s the off-time that poses the most danger.  On-road trips, players and personal must confine themselves to their hotels except when at training facilities or when engaging in low-risk activities.  In other words, no bar hopping or dining with teammates indoors.  Obviously, MLB will remain open to changing these protocols depending upon case numbers’ rise and fall.

Of course, the league and teams have to consider the fact that the human brain does not mature in terms of impulse control and decision making until about the age of 25.  Younger players especially may engage in risky behaviors that adversely affect the entire team.

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The league also recognizes the psychic cost of dealing with a deadly virus for more than a year.  Each club will provide support for personnel suffering from Covid anxiety.

In San Diego County, cases began to rise in November and peaked in January at around 4,000 a day.  By February, case numbers, as well as deaths, had dropped substantially. Although the county remains in the most restrictive Purple Tier, a move to the less restrictive Red Tier may be on the horizon.

While California continues to adhere to the guidelines developed early last year, other states have thrown caution to the wind.  The governor of Texas recently eliminated any masking requirements and allowed businesses to return to full capacity.  Florida’s governor also lifted most restrictions.  The Padres will travel to both states this season to play the Houston Astros May 28-30 and the Miami Marlins July 22-25.

According to the federal government’s recent announcement, the United States should have sufficient supplies for all Americans to have access to the vaccines by May 1.  The Padres have contributed to the effort by making space available for the first Vaccine Super Station, operated by UCSD Health, at K and 13th Streets.  Over  3,000 health care workers received vaccinations on January 11, and since then, thousands of San Diego residents have swarmed to the location.

According to current plans, Petco Park will allow a so-far undetermined number of fans on opening day, April 1, probably limited to season ticket holders.  Attendants will be divided into pods of two to six seats, separated by at least six feet.  Hand sanitizers station will abound.  Spaces will also be available in the outfield park.

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Of the Padres’ division rivals, only the Arizona Diamondbacks (25 percent) and Colorado Rockies (42.6 percent) have announced their guidelines attendance guidelines. The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants have held off making a decision, and the Padres haven’t made an official announcement.  However, current estimates put the number at 25 percent or 10,000 bodies.

Nathan Fletcher, the chair of the County Board of Supervisors, anticipates a day this season when Petco Park will be filled to capacity.  According to every prognostication available, the Padres will make it to the playoffs this year.  The team certainly looks ready not only for a repeat of last year’s performance but to make it deeper into the Championship Series.  Just imagine Petco Park filled to the brim to cheer on one of the best if not the best team in Padres’ history.

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