Cubs' Tommy Hottovy: COVID-19 ‘isn’t going away anytime soon’

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Gordon Wittenmyer
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Hottovy: COVID-19 outbreak reminder ‘how real’ threat remains originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

MILWAUKEE — Another day into the Cubs’ COVID-19 watch, and another player goes on the COVID injured list — the fourth in two days. Two coaches are sidelined for positive tests after each had at least one of his pair of vaccine shots.

And then just before game time Tuesday night, ace Kyle Hendricks had his scheduled start against the Brewers pushed back “out of an abundance of caution” because the pitcher was “not feeling well.”

Forget the Cubs’ hitting woes and slow start to the season. The Cubs — and Major League Baseball — are facing what could be the first threat to the attempt to pull off the full season that looked impossible just a few months ago.

“It’s concerning just because it’s another reminder that this thing isn’t going away anytime soon,” said pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, who might be the Cubs’ resident expert on COVID-19, for ll the wrong reasons.

Cubs manager David Ross said Tuesday afternoon that none of the four players on the COVID IL had tested positive, but that after coaches Craig Driver last week and Chris Young on Monday tested positive “we’re going to errr on the side of caution” regarding any symptoms that could be considered COVID-related — regardless of negative tests.

It was not immediately clear what symptoms Hendricks had or what they meant for his status this week.

But that’s what this week has taught everyone involved in this 30-team effort, regardless of last year’s experience, the NFL’s ability to pull off a season or even the Cubs’ and baseball’s best efforts when it comes to staying safe and even getting vaccines.

Young had recently received his second vaccination shot; Driver was between his two shots. Both produced positive tests during the period before experts say maximum protection kicked in.

“With the amount of time that we all spend together in the locker room, and traveling, it just shows you how quickly something can get off the rails,” Hottovy said of the week the Cubs are going through during a conversation with NBC Sports Chicago before Tuesday’s game.

It’s been almost a year since Hottovy battled serious symptoms during a monthlong case of the virus, and he still can’t identify with any certainty how he contracted it through all the care and safety precautions he and his family were exercising.

“From my own experience, I wasn’t doing anything irresponsible,” Hottovy said. “You can do everything you want to do right. Yes, there’s cases where guys do things that probably aren’t the best that may bring it in. But that’s definitely not the case [with this outbreak]. Just because somebody pops a positive doesn’t mean they’re doing something they’re not supposed to be doing.

“We lived it last year. We know kind of what we need to do to be successful at this thing,” Hottovy added. “But that doesn’t mean there’s a 100-percent foolproof way to make sure we don’t get it.”

Young’s and Driver’s cases underscore the point.

In fact, the Cubs — who were the only team in the majors last season without a player testing positive — have had more than half their players and other Tier 1 personnel fully vaccinated or in the two-shot process of being vaccinated, according to a source.

That’s behind some of optimism among team officials and even some players that the team will reach the 85-percent threshold necessary to relax some of the safety protocols.

“Definitely,” pitcher Pedro Strop said of his expectation the club will get there. “I don’t see why not. I think the guys are really positive and we should get the vaccine, all of us, and see if that works better.”

Strop made headlines for a couple of days during spring training because of a protocol violation that cost him a brief quarantine period away from the team.

He said Tuesday he has received the first of his two vaccine shots. Shortstop Javy Báez and pitcher Adbert Alzolay also say they’ve had their shots.

And Ross said that Young in particular believes he is symptom free because he got the vaccine.

“They thing the fact that they’ve had the shot is actually a positive and would recommend everybody get the shot,” Ross said.

The big questions are, perhaps obviously, all questions and unknowns that remain during a pandemic that continues to see increases in cases nationally the last four weeks in a row, according to the CDC, despite increasing vaccination levels and a year of experience with the virus.

Even if every team reaches the 85-percent threshold, outbreaks might still crop up — especially if protocols are relaxed.

That’s why Cubs officials say they’re proceeding with as much caution as possible while still keeping a pitching staff intact — and plan to stay vigilant no matter how many on the team get vaccinated and no matter how encouraging the health projections look.

But more than 5 1/2 months remain to pull this off. And as Hottovy said, this virus isn’t going away anytime soon.

“Obviously, being a year removed from it, we know a lot more about the virus and how to treat it and how to make things better,” he said. “But this is just another reminder of how real this all is, with everything we’ve got going on.”

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