5 Phillies players, 3 staff members at Florida training facility test positive for coronavirus

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PHILADELPHIA — Major League Baseball’s first known coronavirus outbreak has occurred at the Philadelphia Phillies’ spring training facility in Clearwater, Fla.

Five players and three staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, the Phillies said in a statement Friday, confirming an NBC Sports Philadelphia report, with the first confirmed case occurring June 16.

The names of the infected people — which extends to family members (adults and children), according to a source, who weren’t counted in the Phillies’ stated tally — have not been released due to medical privacy law. It’s not believed that any of the people have required hospitalization, the source said.

Eight staff members have tested negative, according to the team, while 32 others (20 players, including minor leaguers, and 12 staff members) are still awaiting their test results.

“The Phillies are committed to the health and welfare of our players, coaches and staff as our highest priority,” Phillies managing partner John Middleton said in the statement, “and as a result of these confirmed tests, all facilities in Clearwater have been closed indefinitely to all players, coaches and staff and will remain closed until medical authorities are confident that the virus is under control and our facilities are disinfected.”

The outbreak is a reminder that the prospects of an MLB season in 2020 hinge even more on the coronavirus than the public feud that is being waged between MLB and the Players Association, first over how much the players would be paid and now over the length of the schedule.

Middleton wrote in a letter to employees last month that he remained “hopeful” that a season will be played, albeit likely without fans in attendance. But his final line from the team’s statement Friday seems notable.

“In terms of the implications of this outbreak on the Phillies’ 2020 season, the club declines comment,” Middleton said, “believing that it is too early to know.”

The Phillies closed Spectrum Field and the Carpenter Complex in March after the postponement of spring training and disinfected the facility. But the complex has remained available to players who are recovering from injuries and a skeleton crew of staff members. Many of those players were working out several times per week.

Although the Phillies had not officially reopened their doors in Clearwater, the group of players using the facility has grown slightly over the last few weeks, according to a source.

New cases of COVID-19 are spiking in several states, including Florida. The Florida Department of Health reported 3,822 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the largest daily increase since the virus was first reported in the state on March 1.

Last month, MLB submitted for the Players Association’s review a 67-page first draft of a manual for a resumption of play. The protocols included virus testing “multiple” times per week but didn’t stipulate how often. Also, the restrictions were more austere on the road than at home, including prohibiting players from using hotel gyms or to leaving the hotel other than to go to the ballpark.

Citing medical privacy law, an MLB spokesperson declined to comment Friday on the Phillies’ outbreak or whether it changes the protocols set forth in the 67-page manual.

The Phillies’ outbreak intersects with a TSN Canada report that the Tampa Bay Lightning temporarily closed training facilities because players and staff tested positive for coronavirus. Clearwater is located adjacent to Tampa, between the bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

“What basically happened is that COVID took off in certain regions earlier than others in the United States,” Dr. Paul Sax, clinical director of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said last week. “All the places that got slammed early on — Boston; New York City, obviously; Philadelphia, to some extent — had events that took place in February or March and seeded the communities with large numbers of cases. That was not the case in most of the southwest, in Texas, in most of Florida. As a result, I think what we’re seeing now is just that they’re later to the pandemic.”


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