The toll of the Phillies’ coronavirus outbreak has risen to 12 infected club employees, including seven players.
After Friday’s revelation that three staff members and five players — mostly major leaguers, according to one source — tested positive for COVID-19 at the Phillies’ spring-training facility in Clearwater, the team announced Tuesday that three of 32 pending tests came back positive, as well.
In addition, the Phillies announced that one player tested positive “in a location other than Clearwater,” bringing the total to seven players and five staff that have been infected among 49 employees who were tested.
The Phillies shuttered Spectrum Field and the Carpenter Complex on Friday for cleansing and disinfecting. Although none of the employees has required hospitalization, according to the Phillies, a second source confirmed that several are coping with symptoms of the virus.
Not included in the Phillies’ tally: an unknown number of family members (adults and children) who also tested positive and were sick.
While the Phillies' outbreak was the first of its kind in Major League Baseball, reports followed of a symptomatic Toronto Blue Jays pitcher and four positive tests at the New York Yankees' spring-training facility. The Blue Jays and Yankees train in Dunedin and Tampa, respectively, both of which are adjacent to Clearwater in Pinellas County.
The NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning closed their training facility after positive tests; three players with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers also reportedly tested positive.
MLB responded Friday night by shutting down all 30 spring-training sites in Florida and Arizona, states that have seen a recent spike in coronavirus cases, and ordering that they undergo thorough cleansing and sanitizing. MLB also directed teams to plan on relocating to their home cities for a potential “spring training 2.0.”
Even before the outbreak in Clearwater, the Phillies intended to train locally — at Citizens Bank Park, their youth academy at nearby FDR Park, and their triple-A Lehigh Valley ballpark — if MLB is able to finalize details for a 2020 season, a source said recently.
The Phillies’ outbreak served as a stark reminder that COVID-19 is still the primary obstacle to a return to play. Although most of the attention lately has been paid to MLB’s negotiations with the players association over player compensation and the length of the schedule, the virus might render all other issues moot.
Last month, MLB presented the players with a 67-page first draft outlining a set of austere behavioral measures for mitigating the spread of the virus, including not leaving the team hotel on the road except to go to the ballpark, not using hydrotherapy pools in training rooms, and perhaps even not showering on site.
The protocols also call for "multiple" COVID-19 tests per week and self-quarantine for an indeterminate amount of time for anyone who tests positive.
But what if multiple players from one team test positive? If it can happen to the Phillies during informal workouts, it can certainly happen when a larger group of players and staff come together to prepare for the season.
Asked Friday whether the Phillies’ outbreak makes it less likely that MLB will be able to stage a 2020 season, managing partner John Middleton called it the “$64,000 question.” In his statement about the initial wave of positive tests, Middleton said “it is too early to know” the implications of the outbreak.
The Phillies closed Spectrum Field and the Carpenter Complex within a few days of the March 12 postponement of spring training and sanitized the facility. But injured players were granted access to continue their rehab under the supervision of a skeleton staff.
Several other major- and minor-league players and staff reside in the Clearwater area or opted to stay during baseball’s hiatus rather than returning to their offseason homes.