Why one medical expert remains skeptical of MLB's COVID-19 precautions


Now that we have more details on the health precautions being discussed between baseball owners and the players, should we feel any better — or feel that players will be any safer — about starting the season during this pandemic than we did a week ago?

The short answer seems to be no, according to infectious disease expert and friend of the Cubs Talk Podcast Dr. Robert Citronberg, who joined the pod to discuss the subject for the second time this month.

Citronberg, the specialist affiliated with Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, called Major League Baseball’s plan “very, very difficult to pull off,” even using all the preventative safety measures outlined in MLB’s 67-page health proposal to players this week.

The players union reportedly responded late in the week, and the sides are in a negotiating process many expect will lead to a start to a 2020 season by early July.

RELATED: Players association responds to MLB health proposal, negotiations continue

Multiple diagnostic tests of every player and other essential personnel per week? Daily temperature checks? Social distancing in clubhouses and dugouts? Bans on high fives, spitting, lineup-card exchanges and even showers?

Citronberg remains skeptical the sum of reported precautions will assure any significantly reduced risk of a COVID-19 outbreak on a given team or teams and raised the public-welfare argument over thousands of tests being devoted to baseball players when tests remain hard to get for some in underserved communities who need them.

While nobody is suggesting the reported details represent a final plan, the 67-page proposal includes a quarantine procedure for a positive test that isolates only the individual testing positive instead of including all those in contact with him (i.e., much or all of the team) — which most experts suggest is necessary to be effective.

“There’s a pretty good chance he’s already exposed other people, perhaps the entire locker room [by the time an individual tests positive],” Citronberg said. “So it’s a little bit risky in general to have a strategy where you’re only isolating the particular person who tested positive rather than the entire group that he was in contact with.

“There’s a real chance that this could spread rapidly in a locker room,” he added. “If it can be pulled off, yeah, I think that is a model [for other sports]. I just would be concerned [about] what’s the downside if it doesn’t work and players or other personnel get very sick or could even die from it — people might be asking themselves, `Was it worth it.’ “

That league-wide risk doesn’t even take into account that specifically Cook County — home to both of the state’s baseball teams — has the highest coronavirus infection rate of any county in the United States.

Citronberg, who has advised several large companies and sports organizations on operating during the pandemic, also raised the issue of predictions by health officials that after August a new fall flu season could lead to a second wave of COVID-19 infections nationally and even globally.

“There’s a few issues involved here,” he said of whether he would advise baseball to start under the reported plan. “As a doctor, I probably see things a little bit differently than a Major League Baseball executive. It just really matters what kind of risk is acceptable to you to do it.”

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