ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Just about a week after being one of the first teams in baseball to reach the 85% vaccination rate, the Yankees have three new cases — two coaches and an unnamed support staffer — of COVID-19 among their traveling party.
Third base coach Phil Nevin, who had been fully vaccinated, and first base coach Reggie Willits are confirmed positive COVID-19 cases, the Yankees announced.
Pitching coach Matt Blake was also not at the game Tuesday night, when the Yankees beat the Rays, 3-1, with bullpen coach Mike Harkey handling both the bullpen and the in-game pitching.
After the game Boone said they don’t know if they will have any more positive tests returned before Wednesday night’s game, but he expects it to be played.
“Major League Baseball and their doctors are advising us and have certainly planned for this stuff, and troubleshoot all this stuff for these kinds of scenarios. . . they also were very confident today that we could and should play,” Boone said. “The players, I think, got together and were at ease once we had a handle on everything. Obviously, we’re so much further along in this pandemic and what it all means and how to handle certain things that as of right now. I’m absolutely planning on playing tomorrow.”
The fact that the Yankees have a large number of vaccinated players gave MLB and the joint committee with the union confidence they could stop the spread of the infectious disease without shutting down the game.
Still there was some concern among the players.
Gerrit Cole, who is helping serve as the union rep while Zack Britton is on the injured list, said the players were in touch with the union and the joint committee with the league to try to find out information about their situation. The team met as a group and decided to play Tuesday night.
“As a whole we are looking to press on. Again different levels of comfortability, I think across the club. So we’re just trying to accommodate that and just kind of stick together as a group and make sure everybody is in a good spot to perform tonight,” Cole said before the game. “I think we felt confident as a group that we could do that.”
Cole said he had not heard about the issue until Monday, which was an off day for the Yankees. Boone, however, said the first positive tests came Sunday night.
“It was Sunday night when we started to get some of the news. And then a lot of it unfolded yesterday,” Boone said.
The Yankees had prepared before Tuesday’s game. They had player development coordinator Marion Garza coaching first base and bench coach Carlos Mendoza was going to coach third.
It was a blow to the Yankees, who were happy to have been among the first teams to enjoy the relative freedoms that were promised for teams reaching the 85% vaccination rate. That included being able to go maskless in the dugout during games. Tuesday night, however, the Yankees were back to wearing masks and would be taking more precautions.
Cole said he expects baseball — and the world — to be dealing with this for the next several years. The Yankees ace appeared on the pregame Zoom media conference wearing a mask for the first time this season.
“I don’t think this is gonna be over for a few years. I think we’re going to have to be dealing with this kind of thing for a while. And every time these things come up, we’re gonna have to adapt and learn just as a species,” Cole said. “We’re gonna take it one step at a time and do the best we can with it.”
Before the game, a few players wore masks on the field, the majority did not. Hitting coach Marcus Thames, catching coach Tanner Swanson and bullpen coach Mike Harkey were also wearing masks. Boone said he would wear one in the dugout.
According to the CDC, breakthrough cases are extremely rare. There were 9,000 reported breakthrough cases, meaning fully vaccinated patients testing positive, among the 95 million vaccinated Americans at that point. The breakthrough cases result in a very small percentage of hospitalizations, according to the CDC.
Boone, who grew up with Nevin in Southern California, said that he is “doing OK.” He said that he hopes this does not discourage others from getting the vaccine.
“Hopefully, the fact that we’re vaccinated in a pretty large mass is something that will blunt this and allow a number of those to not get anything and keep the symptoms at a minimum,” Boone said. “If it does get through, no, hopefully it’s not the case. And hopefully, it turns out to be a case of encouraging people to still do it.”
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