MLB loosens COVID restrictions, drops masks for vaccinated

Sports
Yusei Kikuchi

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi puts on his mask in the bullpen before the team’s baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, Calif., Thursday, June 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

NEW YORK (AP) — All fully vaccinated players and staff can stop wearing masks in dugouts, bullpens and clubhouses under the latest change to Major League Baseball’s coronavirus protocols.

In addition, fully vaccinated players and staff may eat in restaurants without restrictions and attend sporting events as spectators at venues with government approved safety protocols, the commissioner’s office and players’ association said in a memo sent Wednesday night.

Kinexon electronic tracing devices and monitor testing are being eliminated, and compliance officers no longer have to accompany teams on trips.

Social distancing and mask requirements have been eliminated for team busses involving fully vaccinated players and staff, and players and staff can resume arriving at clubhouses more than five hours before game time.

Unvaccinated and partially vaccinated players and staff still must wear masks but it will not be considered a violation to remove or pull down the mask to briefly eat or drink, before entering or leaving a shower or at the direction of the medical or training staff.

Clubhouse social distancing was eliminated for all teams reaching 85% vaccination among tier 1 individuals such as players, managers, coaches and training staff. As of last Friday, 22 of the 30 teams had reached 85% among tier 1 individuals.

Restrictions on team individuals dining together also were eliminated, with the exception that non-vaccinated individuals must still wear masks when not eating or drinking.

Fully vaccinated players and staff also can resume commercial travel without PCR intake testing when they rejoin the team, unless they show COVID-19 symptoms or are known to have been exposed. Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated family may stay with fully vaccinated players and staff on the road, and players and staff can use hotel pools and fitness centers, with provisions that masks are required in fitness centers if they are open to the public and that physical distancing is required in pools.

The five-day quarantine was eliminated for free agents and players selected to a team’s 40-man roster who were not in the COVID testing program previously.

The Seattle Mariners said Thursday they will return to 100% capacity at T-Mobile Park on July 2, the 29th of the 30 teams to return to full capacity.

Only Texas began this season at 100% after fans weren’t permitted during the shortened 2020 regular season because of the coronavirus.

Others announcing the move to full capacity in-season have been Atlanta (May 7), Arizona (May 25), Boston (May 29), Kansas City (May 31), Baltimore (June 1), Cincinnati and Cleveland (June 2). Philadelphia (June 4), Detroit (June 8), the Chicago Cubs and Washington (June 11), Philadelphia (June 12), St. Louis (June 14), the Los Angeles Dodgers (June 16). the Los Angeles Angels and San Diego (June 17), the New York Yankees (June 18), the New York Mets (June 21), the Chicago White Sox, Houston, Milwaukee and San Francisco (June 25), Colorado (June 28), Oakland (June 29), Pittsburgh (July 1) and Minnesota and Tampa Bay (July 5).

Only Toronto will not be back to normal capacity. The Blue Jays have not played in Toronto since 2019 due to Canadian government coronavirus restrictions. They played last season at their Triple-A affiliate’s ballpark in Buffalo, New York, going 17-9, then started their season 10-11 at their spring training stadium in Dunedin, Florida, through May 24 before switching back to Buffalo this month. They will play home games in Buffalo through at least July 21.

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