Five weeks into baseball's restart - and two weeks into the actual games - Major League Baseball finally caught up to the Cubs in COVID-19 health and safety management.
The only team without a positive test among its players since intake testing began in June has exceeded MLB's level of protocols within its own policies until midweek, when new mandates sent to teams finally included a stepped-up measure the Cubs will add to their routine.
"The real change is just the masks in the dugout," manager David Ross said before Thursday's game against the Royals in Kansas City. "That's the one that stands out for sure. The off-the-field stuff is just a little more detailed, stuff we were already doing here."
That includes social-distancing details for buses and planes, the now required surgical masks instead of cloth masks on those buses and planes, mask-wearing in hotel lobbies, and stricter protocols - and communication with the team compliance officer - if leaving the hotel for any reason other than going to the ballpark.
"The one glaring one is the in-the-dugout masks, no matter if you're playing or not," utility man David Bote said. "I think having a box of masks as you come off the field and putting one on is a simple thing to do, but it definitely adds an extra thought that you weren't really thinking of if you were in the game.
"But it's something where people across the world are making adjustments in their workplaces and their life in order to make things happen," he added, "and I think that's something we always will embrace and something to be aware of."
The Cubs have done so well implementing internal policies that other teams have reached out to the Cubs to compare practices.
MLB's upgraded safety requirements - which include a schedule of penalties for violations - coincide with the Cubs' trip to St. Louis over the weekend for the Cardinals' first series since a coronavirus outbreak paused their season for a week.
"We've kind of discussed some guys wanting to wear masks [on the field] through this," Bote said of the Cubs' level of trepidation heading into Friday's series opener. "The good thing is the negative tests the last couple days from their side. That's a little bit of relief."
Bote called MLB's upgraded protocols "important" as baseball returns from two first-week outbreaks, including a Marlins outbreak that was even more widespread than the Cardinals'.
"As long as people are up front and honest with how they're feeling, I think going in there is fine right now," Bote said.
Cubs embrace MLB's stepped-up COVID-19 protocols ahead of Cardinals series originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago