Why Cubs' COVID-19 outbreak should be vaccine wakeup call


Nobody should need reminders of the value of wearing masks or getting vaccines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Certainly not more than a year — and more than 550,000 American deaths — into a pandemic.

And if there’s one major-league team that wouldn’t seem to need a reminder it’s the one that took safety protocols serious enough during last summer’s high-risk season to avoid even one positive test among its players from the start of intake testing through the 62nd game played.

But that same Cubs team with the same manager and field staff and largely the same group of core veteran players is getting its cold dose of reality — if not necessarily its recommended doses of vaccines.

That reality, as if we didn’t already know it: This virus is still out there, still serious and still capable of bringing down a season faster than any .167-hitting lineup or any rotation with a 5.44 ERA — along with all those multi-billion-dollar revenues and multi-billion-dollar salaries to be earned.

Never mind the very real, potentially severe health risks.

Cubs first-base coach Craig Driver and bullpen coach Chris Young have tested positive, and three pitchers — Jason Adam, Brandon Workman and Dan Winkler — all went on baseball’s COVID-19 injured list Monday.

Manager David Ross talked about the team “being extra cautious right now” as it navigates the outbreak that comes just nine games into the season and that brings with it uncertainty over incubation periods and containing its spread.

“There’s always that kind of underlying, ‘How big is this?’ “ Ross said.

They should have a better idea in a few more days.

But the bigger question for now is whether this COVID scare persuades any of the Cubs’ players and “Tier 1” personnel who have refused or put off the offered vaccines to now get in line.

Because that might be what it takes to keep the wheels on this attempt at a full season from coming off, as teams travel greater distances over six months instead of two this year at a time the CDC reports a fourth consecutive week of rising cases of the virus nationally — even as vaccinations become increasingly available.

“We’re definitely hopeful. We’re hopeful that guys can see the value in being vaccinated and trying to get towards that threshold number,” Ross said. “But, again, each guy makes their choices. It’s readily available, and we’re working towards that number as diligently as we can.”

The number he’s talking about is the 85 percent vaccination level among the 100 or so players and Tier 1 personnel required by MLB to relax safety protocols, including such things as wearing masks in the dugouts and bullpens, and restrictions on indoor dining.

Vaccines have been available for MLB personnel since a few days before the April 1 openers. The Cardinals said almost immediately they had more than 85-percent compliance. White Sox president Rick Hahn estimated 90-percent of his club's recent traveling party got the one-shot doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The vast majority of MLB teams have not reported levels that that would allow for relaxed protocols — although those using the two-shot doses, such as the Cubs, will take longer than the White Sox to be considered vaccinated even if they get enough compliance.

Among the Cubs, Ross and shortstop Javy Baez said they have been vaccinated. It’s possible some of those impacted by Monday’s news have been in the process or are between shots.

But the rest? All the Cubs have said is that they’re hopeful they’ll reach 85 percent, that team officials are encouraging players, providing medical information and that conversations are happening.

“Absolutely, they’re happening,” infielder David Bote said over the weekend. “But everyone has their own viewpoints on it. All the conversations I’ve had, everybody’s been super respectful with each other, both sides; if they want to get it, they don’t want to get it, if they’re in a holding pattern.

“I think having those conversations is really good and really healthy.”


Seems healthy for all concerned might be a lot less talk and a lot more getting the damn shot.

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