Cubs no longer anybody's COVID-19 safety role model

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Cubs no longer anybody’s role model for COVID-19 safety originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Less than a year after the Cubs created one of the safest COVID-19 safe zones in the city, their inner sanctum might be the least safe zone in their own ballpark as capacity limits are extended at Wrigley Field this month and press box protocols are relaxed for vaccinated media.

The Cubs remain one of many teams in the majors with enough vaccine holdouts to fall short of the 85-percent vaccination threshold for “Tier 1” personnel required to relax clubhouse, dugout and off-site safety protocols.

“It’s something that I’m going to continue to be hopeful for,” said manager David Ross, who has been vaccinated. “I don’t know if we’re going to get there. But I keep hoping.”

Hoping.

So much for all that safety-first, one-for-all-and-all-for-one rhetoric — and perfect testing record — in 2020. So much for all those claims of across-the-board buy-in and respect for the dangers of a virus that waylaid their fit, 30-something, professional athlete of a pitching coach for a frightening month last year.

So much for this team’s place as a role model in the game for COVID-19 safety.

About 100 people, including players and coaches, make up the Tier 1 category for each team. The Cubs have more than 50 percent vaccinated, according to sources, but remain stalled below the 85-percent mark despite persistent messaging from the medical staff on the science, safety and value of vaccines — with the “diligent” effort emphasized every time the team returns home from a road trip, Ross said.

The Cubs certainly are not alone among MLB teams failing to reach the mandated threshold for relaxing restrictions.

But they are especially conspicuous because of their pre-vaccine status in 2020 as the only team that did not experience a positive test among players during the three months after teams reconvened for the shortened season.

In particular, the current percentage of players choosing not to be vaccinated flies in the face of last year’s rhetoric from the top of the front office all the way through the manager’s office and the clubhouse about unified respect for the dangers of the virus and the safety of teammates and families.

Asked whether he thinks it’s strange that players aren’t taking the medical advice of team doctors, Ross said, “I think everybody makes their own individual medical decisions themselves.

“So whether that’s strange or not, it’s all around the league,” he added. “It’s all around the world to be honest with you. You have to honor and respect guys’ decisions. And try to give them the reasonings that you feel are important. At the end of the day, it’s up to them. And you hope for the best. And we go from there and try to follow protocols.”

Meanwhile, a team that stood out last year among all 30 teams for all the right reasons is starting to stand out in its own city — its own ballpark — for different reasons.

The latest update on the Cubs’ stagnant vaccination numbers comes the same week that the city and team announced that Wrigley Field’s allowed capacity will increase from 25 percent to 60 percent for the homestand beginning May 28 — and that starting Monday a seating section without safe-distancing restrictions has been set aside for fans who can verify they’re fully vaccinated.

And on Friday MLB sent a memo to all clubs lifting mask requirements and safe-distancing restrictions in press boxes for vaccinated members of the media and some of the teams’ vaccinated staff.

That includes all members of the Chicago chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America who are dedicated to the Cubs’ beat.

And while the vaccines aren’t guarantees against infection, the percentages and the science are on the side of the vaccines and those who get them.

And that means the safest, healthiest team in baseball in 2020 might soon be less at risk in 2021 from those outside its bubble than from within.

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