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Major League Baseball plans on having fans in attendance during the 2021 season, even though America is still in the midst of the pandemic that shortened the 2020 campaign. Sure, we’re seemingly closer to the end of the pandemic than the beginning at this point, but we’ve also begun a vaccination rollout that is doubling as a campaign against the very concept of means testing, so who knows. What we do know is that MLB, per The Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin, won’t be requiring negative COVID-19 tests or proof of vaccination from those fans in attendance.
Their reasoning, at least for the tests? The results are meaningless from a safety perspective for those looking to attend a game:
In explaining why testing would not be mandated, the league said: “Mass testing of this kind is not practical with the existing rapid testing options, and testing is of limited utility when done days in advance of an event.” The league said its guidance could change in the event of “any major advancement in testing technology.”
They aren’t wrong, though, this kind of thinking was obviously missing from the 2020 season, when players would be tested in advance of their next game, and sometimes not even get results back prior to the start of that game, and yet still be allowed to go out and play. And I’m not about to argue that people who want to go to baseball games should join the leagues in sucking up coronavirus testing resources just so they can leave their homes and gather with others. So what’s my issue here? It’s that MLB still plans on having fans at the games in the first place.
If they can’t test fans in a way that would serve as more than a cursory defense against the idea that they aren’t being safe about having them in attendance, then they shouldn’t have fans at the games. This is not the direction that MLB is heading in, though: instead, they’re exclaiming, “well, what can you do?” and moving on with the season.
You knew this is eventually where things would end up. As Yahoo! Sports’ Hannah Keyser tweeted in response to this news, “The 2020 postseason was supposed to function as a test run for fan safety protocols, but I’ve been thinking a lot since then about how there was no attempt to actually gauge whether they worked.” What was the followup to Justin Turner testing positive for coronavirus and then coming back onto the field to celebrate the Dodgers winning the World Series? Were there any attempts to figure out if the World Series (and the NLCS) acted in any way as superspreader events? Or with the 2020 season over, did everyone just kind of forget about MLB’s potential role in any of that? This isn’t a series of gotcha questions: they’re ones we don’t have the answers to, because, like Keyser said, no one bothered to check up on anything they should have been checking up on, and now we find ourselves about to see a season with fans once more despite the lack of answers.
Back in June of 2020, there were reports that MLB wanted to allow local governments to decide if there would be fans in attendance at games. They’re basically back to that mode of thinking now, as there is no mandate for tests or vaccinations, but individual teams can decide to require testing, or local governments can force these mandates themselves. The reaction then was that making up for revenues lost by not having fans in attendance was what truly mattered to MLB, with fan and worker safety a distant second:
This is MLB attempting to reclaim revenue they would otherwise not make, despite the inherent safety issues. A stadium at 50 percent capacity is still a massive gathering: the Rangers’ stadium, Globe Life Park, has a max capacity of over 49,000, while the Astros’ Minute Maid Park is over 41,000. Cutting that in half is still more than what a full NBA or NHL arena would look like, is still the population of an entire town, and while these parks are outdoors rather than indoors, there are still people in close proximity in bathrooms, in line, waiting for food, etc. And workers that weren’t necessary to make an MLB game happen without fans are suddenly required, and at risk of catching or spreading coronavirus themselves in a way they wouldn’t be if they were at home, safely collecting unemployment or continued checks from their teams during a pandemic.
The reaction is the same now. MLB (correctly) thinks it isn’t feasible to test all of these fans in a way that is meaningful and useful, but they want to sell tickets. There is money to be made from selling tickets, so that’s what they’ll do. It will be good for concessions workers to have a paycheck coming in again, sure, but it will be at a risk to their health and the health of those they come into contact with. It’s not as if everyone at these games is going to be masked up: like with outdoor dining, masks are only required until you want to eat food or have a beer, which, what do fans spend most of the three hours in attendance doing? Certainly not eating and drinking and yelling and breathing air out into the world around them for three-to-four hours at a time.
It’s weird how, despite all the known risks of coronavirus transmission, that the safest places to be during the pandemic seem to be the ones where people can spend their money. Oh well, that’s probably just some kind of coincidence.
Listen, I would love nothing more than to attend a pro basketball game right now — and not just because my outside-the-house activities have been limited to “the grocery store” since March — but it’s just not safe to do so. Not when December had the most coronavirus deaths of any month of this pandemic thus far, not when the vaccination rollout is full of waste and mistakes, not when it’s clear we’re not even close to out of the woods yet. MLB is going to allow fans unless local governments intervene, but you don’t have to be one of the fans to go. Remember that!