International MLB stars awaiting word on return to US, would not have to quarantine for 2 weeks

Tim BrownMLB columnist
Yahoo Sports

International players returning from their home countries in order to resume training for a shortened Major League Baseball season would not be held to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention coronavirus quarantine recommendations, according to guidelines proposed by the league, which instead would screen, test and quarantine foreign and domestic players under the same program.

The CDC currently suggests a 14-day quarantine period for those arriving internationally. Under that direction, and considering MLB’s hope to open camps by the second week of June, international players who spent recent time out of the country would have a greater urgency to return to the U.S., by the end of May at the latest. That the league and the players association do not have an agreement for, among other issues, how players will be compensated in 2020, and might not for weeks, could further complicate those travel plans.

Several agents with clients currently in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, Japan, Korea and other countries said this week they’d received little or no direction regarding international travel protocols and were uncertain if the players would be held to a two-week quarantine requirement, causing confusion. 

According to two agents who went back over a month of near-daily email reports from the Major League Baseball Players Association, there has been no mention of plans — or possible plans, or possible obstacles, or advice — for international players awaiting the OK to return. The union declined comment.

As a way to limit the exposure of players to the virus, the league might consider chartering private planes from areas where there are larger populations of returning players, like the Dominican Republic. 

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/7681/" data-ylk="slk:Nelson Cruz">Nelson Cruz</a> and Miguel Sano, whose <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/teams/minnesota/" data-ylk="slk:Minnesota Twins">Minnesota Twins</a> played a spring training game in Santo Domingo earlier this year, each hail from the Dominican Republic. Many players have returned to their home countries during MLB's coronavirus shutdown. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)
Nelson Cruz and Miguel Sano, whose Minnesota Twins played a spring training game in Santo Domingo earlier this year, each hail from the Dominican Republic. Many players have returned to their home countries during MLB's coronavirus shutdown. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

MLB’s 67-page operations manual for 2020 — the first draft of which was forwarded to the players association last week and returned with potential revisions Thursday — proposes a multi-step process the league believes would satisfy health and safety experts, including when applied to recent international travelers. The procedures were adopted after consulting with infectious disease experts, according to the league, and in their final form will be shared with federal, state and local health officials in relevant jurisdictions.

Upon reporting to their teams, all players would be required to submit to:

  • A thorough pre-screening questionnaire administered by team physicians. The form would inquire about possible symptoms, exposures and recent whereabouts that could reveal potential risks.

  • Temperature checks.

  • A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) saliva test that would detect the presence of the COVID-19 virus.

  • A blood test, for the presence of antibodies.

The PCR and blood tests would be forwarded to a laboratory in Salt Lake City. Players would be quarantined for the 24- to 48-hour period required for the lab to turn around the tests.

Because such a program is far more extensive than general CDC guidelines, MLB officials are confident a 14-day quarantine for returning international players would be unnecessary. 

Should the league and union agree to that part of the proposal (it is expected they will, before delving into the more rigorous economic issues), along with the protocols of a staggered beginning to training camps, and should local and federal medical experts continue to believe it is wise to conduct a baseball season, players would likely be advised to report three or four days before the first workouts.

According to sources familiar with the MLBPA’s response Thursday, the players have requested more frequent testing after the preliminary testing, among other preferences.

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