The full scope of the coronavirus contagion that began with the Miami Marlins and traveled through Philadelphia last weekend is not yet known. But the fallout became clearer Tuesday.
Start here: The Phillies won’t play again until Friday, at least.
Although a round of COVID-19 tests conducted Monday didn’t turn up a positive result among Phillies players or coaches, the team’s home game Tuesday night against the Yankees — as well as games Wednesday and Thursday nights in New York — were postponed “out of an abundance of caution,” Major League Baseball announced. The Phillies’ next game is set for Friday night, when they will be the visiting team at home against the nomadic Toronto Blue Jays.
The Marlins will be sidelined for even longer.
Eleven of 33 players in their traveling party, plus two coaches tested positive between Friday and Sunday at Citizens Bank Park. According to multiple reports, four more tests have come back positive since then, bringing the total number of infections to 17 and prompting MLB to shut down the Marlins through Sunday. Their next game is scheduled for Aug. 4 — against the Phillies, of all teams, in Miami, a COVID-19 epicenter for several weeks.
Meanwhile, the Yankees and Orioles — who were supposed to host the Phillies and Marlins, respectively, on Wednesday and Thursday nights — will instead play each other in Baltimore.
Got all that?
”The difficult circumstances of one club reinforce the vital need to be diligent with the protocols in all ways, both on and off the field,” MLB said in a statement. “We will continue to bolster our protocols and make any necessary adjustments. The realities of the virus still loom large.”
MLB officials believe the outbreak is confined to the Marlins. But they can’t know that for certain yet.
Although MLB reported that 6,400 tests since last Friday didn’t reveal any positives of on-field personnel from teams other than the Marlins, the typical incubation period for the virus — an average of four days, according to Paul Sax, clinical director of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston — means that people who were exposed over the weekend wouldn’t necessarily test positive until midweek.
As a result, the Phillies will shift from alternate-day testing to daily checks this week. After undergoing saliva tests Monday that were processed within 24 hours at an independent laboratory in New Jersey, team personnel returned — in staggered shifts — to Citizens Bank Park and repeated the process Tuesday, before going home without gaining access to ballpark facilities.
Phillies officials haven’t spoken to the local media since Sunday. But in his weekly interview with MLB Network Radio, manager Joe Girardi speculated that the team could undergo daily testing through the week.
“I would think they might test us a few more days in a row just to make sure,” Girardi said, noting that the incubation period can range from two days to two weeks. “I know we can’t wait 14 days, but I think we have to be really smart about this.”
The Phillies broke down the visitors’ clubhouse “to bare bones” Sunday night and fumigated the facilities “above and beyond” normal protocol, vice president of business affairs Howard Smith said. Staff members who work in the visiting clubhouse and came in contact with Marlins personnel were quarantined pending the outcome of tests, which have not been revealed.
Meanwhile, the Marlins remained in isolation Tuesday in Center City (the team stayed at the Rittenhouse Hotel), where the infected players and coaches received care.
In a statement, Marlins chief executive officer Derek Jeter said, “All of our players, coaches and staff are, understandably, having a difficult time enduring this experience.” After the additional infections were revealed Tuesday, Jeter said he “reached out to the commissioner’s office with concern for the health and safety of our team as well as our opponents.”
Pennsylvania health secretary Rachel Levine on Tuesday stood by the commonwealth’s decision to allow the Marlins to enter Philadelphia after training for three weeks in South Florida, a coronavirus hotspot. She also cited the outbreak in defending Pennsylvania’s decision preventing the Blue Jays from relocating to Pittsburgh after they were barred from playing home games in Canada.
“It was just another team with more players, more staff that would be in Pittsburgh, an area that has been challenged in terms of a rising incidence of COVID-19 in terms of new cases,” said Levine, adding that Philadelphia’s cases aren’t surging at the same rate. “It had nothing to do with Toronto. ... In some ways, the fact that the Marlins tested positive, it validates our decision not to add another team” in Pittsburgh.
But questions remain about MLB allowing the Marlins and Phillies to play Sunday, after Miami scratched pitcher Jose Urena without explanation. (Players must give consent for teams to reveal that they tested positive for COVID-19.) Two other starters — outfielder Harold Ramirez and first baseman/designated hitter Garrett Cooper — also didn’t play Sunday.
If they could do it over, the Phillies probably wouldn’t have taken the field Sunday, Girardi said.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “The fact that we haven’t had anyone test positive yet is great. But there’s too much at stake when you talk about players and their health and their family’s health. There are guys that have little children at home; there are guys that have wives that are pregnant; or maybe they have a parent that is high-risk. I just think there’s too much at risk here not to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to back off for two days and let’s make sure.’ We had some players that probably had some trepidation on Sunday.”
The Washington Nationals apparently had concerns about playing the Marlins. They voted as a team against traveling to Miami for a three-game series beginning Friday, although it’s unclear whether they would have refused to go if MLB hadn’t postponed the Marlins’ games through the weekend.
Makeup dates for the Phillies-Yankees series and for the Marlins’ missed games have not been determined. Girardi said teams shouldn’t need to make up games that are missed during an already-shortened season, especially given the likelihood that other outbreaks will occur with other teams.
“If everyone doesn’t play 60 games, I think that’s all right,” he said. “We want to get to the playoffs. That’s the important thing. So, if a team plays 57 games, you go by winning percentage to take the playoff teams, and you go from there.”
In MLB commissioner Rob Manfred's weekly conference call with the 30 team owners Monday, suspending the season didn't come up. As long as the outbreak is limited to the Marlins, it probably won't have to.
All eyes, then, will be on the Phillies’ test results over the next few days.