MLB memo details loosened COVID-19 protocols for players, teams who get vaccine

Major League Baseball and the players union have agreed to relax COVID-19 protocols for vaccinated players and coaches, and for teams where 85 percent of individuals in their designated tier of protection are fully vaccinated.

The league informed teams of the policy in a memo Monday that was obtained by Yahoo Sports. MLB is not mandating that players get the vaccine, but the memo stated that “all players and staff are strongly encouraged to receive one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines when eligible.”

Once clubs achieve 85 percent vaccination, Tier 1 individuals — players and coaches with dugout access to games, primarily — will no longer need to wear face masks in dugouts or bullpens or wear contact tracing devices while in team facilities. They can also dine at indoor and outdoor restaurants, eat and drink freely during team travel, resume shared use of clubhouse amenities such as video game systems and pool tables, and resume use of saunas and steam rooms.

FORT MYERS - FEBRUARY 22: With all the new faces in the organization this season, Red Sox manager Alex Cora was carrying a paper with headshots of all the players around with him today. The Boston Red Sox held the first Spring Training workout open to the media at the JetBlue Park complex in Fort Myers, FL on Feb. 22, 2021. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Vaccinated players or teams that achieve a high level of vaccination will be able to abide by looser COVID-19 protocols, according to an MLB memo. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Vaccinated individuals — defined by the league as anyone two weeks removed from their final dose — on teams that haven’t reached 85 percent are also gaining some freedoms. That includes gathering in hotel rooms or other indoor spaces with other vaccinated persons without masks or distancing — except in communal locations in the clubhouse or training rooms, which will remain under protocol until the 85 percent threshold is reached. Those players will also no longer need to wear masks while exercising in team weight rooms and have the option to exempt themselves from some of the league’s twice-weekly coronavirus testing.

Perhaps most crucially to the stability of the season, vaccinated individuals will not need to quarantine if they are identified as a close contact to someone who tests positive, unless they have symptoms.

Personnel with the vaccine can have vaccinated family or household members stay with them on the road. They can also use ride-sharing apps, gather for activities like playing cards during team travel while masked, socialize outdoors on the road and attend religious services.

Several players have violated MLB's COVID-19 protocols since the league restarted the season in 2020, sometimes causing tension within their teams.

The memo said the league and union will consider additional modifications as the season progresses, including plans for similarly relaxed protocols for Tier 2 individuals soon. The memo was first reported by Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

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