There is no set of protocols that can completely eliminate the risk of contracting the coronavirus.
Therefore, despite Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association having developed an extensive manual to aid in the daunting task of resuming play in 2020, players will continue to test positive during this pandemic.
But identifying those players won’t be easy.
New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, as well as Chicago Cubs GM Jed Hoyer, both stated that under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), teams are not required — or allowed — to divulge the names of any player that tests positive for COVID-19.
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“The information I’ve been given is (the media) will be left to try to figure that out,” Cashman said during a conference call on Tuesday afternoon. “Somebody might be down and out, but we might not be able to speak to why, and it would be a speculating circumstance (where) you would have to use your journalistic superpowers to determine if there’s anything there or not; what the circumstance might be.”
HIPAA federal law protects health information from being disclosed without a patient’s consent or knowledge, which means that only players themselves can agree to reveal their positive test status.
“We’re allowed to talk about numbers, but we’re not allowed to give individual names,” Hoyer told ESPN. “It’s up to those individuals to decide if they want to announce it. As a group, with the media, we’re going to have some conversations about what we can talk about and what we can’t talk about. We’re not at liberty to say which injured list a player is placed on.”
Cashman added: “I don’t believe we’re allowed to validate any COVID circumstance. That’s my understanding as of right now. This is an emerging situation that is new to us all, but I believe that’s the current indication that we’ve received from baseball in their dialogue with the Players Association.”
In order to not to have to halt play this season, both parties signed off on an extensive “2020 Operations Manual.” The document, coming in at well over 100 pages, intends to protect the health and safety of players, team employees, and the entire baseball community and their families.
The health and well-being of players, their family members, and all team personnel is paramount to Major League Baseball, but the league will not formally restrict any activities, and players and staff will be greatly encouraged to commit to an off-the-field code of conduct.
Players, and all personnel and their families, will be advised to follow CDC guidelines and avoid high-risk situations, such as activities where people are close to one another or involving large groups. The onus is on each club to make sure all personnel act responsibly and not place the entire team and their families at risk.
MLB is also providing players’ family members and households, as well as all team personnel’s family members and households, appropriate personal protective equipment and access to regular COVID-19 testing.
If a player’s test is positive, indicating that he has COVID-19, he will be instructed to immediately self-isolate and be treated consistently with all protocols for positive test results, as detailed in the operations manual.
The identification of a player that tests positive may seem straightforward, given the fact that individual will need to isolate temporarily and relocate to his home or a medical facility until cleared by medical professionals, and that person would not be allowed to travel, access team facilities or have direct contact with other individuals, but it won’t be as simple as naming him for not being present at the ballpark.
There will be a “COVID-19-Related Injured List,” but being placed on such a list does not require a confirmed positive test for coronavirus. Players can be placed on the list not only after a positive test, but also after a confirmed exposure to the virus or if he’s exhibited symptoms that require self-isolation before further evaluation.
Major League Baseball has not returned a request for comment from ESPN. The MLB Players Association declined comment.
ESPN’s Jesse Rogers contributed to this report.