How the Iowa Cubs responded when a staff member tested positive for COVID-19

Maddie Lee
NBC Sports Chicago

The good news first: The rest of the COVID-19 tests taken by the Iowa Cubs staff came back negative on Friday, after one staff member tested positive this week.

The bad news: "A single positive test for us," said Sam Bernabe, president and general manager of the Triple-A Iowa Cubs, "if I get another one, it'll shut us down, period."

The question of how many positive tests merits a shutdown is one that businesses across the country are facing, and one Major League Baseball may have to ask itself now that it has a plan to restart Spring Training next week.

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For the I-Cubs and Principal Park, the answer is two incidents.

"It's just not worth the effort that we're making and what little bit we're getting out of it, just trying to stay busy," Bernabe said.

The club suspended ballpark operations on Thursday after a Principal Park staff member tested positive for COVID-19. Bernabe said the staff member who tested positive took the test outside of work and didn't notify the team until the results came back positive. The I-Cubs believe the staff member also contracted the virus outside of work.

Even without an internal outbreak, the I-Cubs had to take extra safety precautions. In addition to temporarily suspending operations and testing over 30 staff members, the club doubled its already intensified cleaning of the ballpark.

"Just about the time you think you have everything covered, you realize you don't have nearly enough covered," Bernabe said. "As far as trying to keep everybody safe and doing the right things from a cleaning standpoint and sanitization, you just don't know what you don't know until something happens."

The Minor League Baseball season remains suspended, and while it hasn't been officially cancelled, it is expected to be. In lieu of professional baseball, minor league teams including the I-Cubs have been hosting other events to keep the community engaged and make up some of the dramatic losses they're bracing for this summer.

On Friday, the planned on-field citizenship ceremony at Principal Park had to move to the parking lot. The annual event, which usually takes place before the I-Cubs' Fourth of July game, already had to be adjusted without baseball. But the team was still planning on lighting up the video board and flying American flags in the stadium.

Instead, the I-Cubs staff helped set up and sanitize tents and cones in the parking lot, but they did not participate in the event beyond that, Bernabe said. Since Principal Park re-opened, after the rest of the tests came back negative, the club has given groups who booked events though the end of July the option to back out.

Several Major League Baseball teams are already facing the challenge of containing COVID-19 outbreaks, and those that aren't already, likely will soon. Cubs players have begun arriving for camp, and the 2020 operations manual requires players to undergo intake screening at least 48 hours before their report date.

"I think our biggest hurdle will be getting to Spring Training," Cubs MLB players association representative Ian Happ said Wednesday on SportsTalk Live. "You're probably going to get a number of guys testing positive as they get to camp."

Some minor league team stadiums will also likely serve as MLB teams' second sites for Spring Training and then their taxi squads. South Bend, the home of the Cubs' Single-A affiliate, is a top candidate for the big-league Cubs' second training site.

MLB has the advantage of a 101-page operations manual that describes in detail the protocol for positive COVID-19 tests. Anyone who tests positive will be isolated, and the club must use contact tracing to identify individuals who must also be tested.

"I can't emphasize enough," Bernabe said, "keep track of where everybody's at and what they're doing. If you're going to operate in any capacity – I don't care whether you're a baseball team, or a bar, or  a shoe store – if you're going to be open, and you're responsible for people coming and going out of your operation, or people coming and going that are working for you, you just have to know where everyone's at all the time. And if something comes up, then you at least have the ability to trace it back."

MLB hopes its health and safety protocols will succeed in limiting the outbreak. But if they don't, the league will be faced with that dreaded question: How many positive tests before the season is shut down?

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How the Iowa Cubs responded when a staff member tested positive for COVID-19 originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

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