MLB struggles with Covid-19 testing issues

Mike Rizzo, Washington Nationals president of baseball operations and general manager, who has been among those critical of MLB's Covid-19 testing and reporting procedures (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Major League Baseball is frantically looking to regain control over its testing and safety protocols for Covid-19 following several days of operational issues around team training camps. 

Three teams – the defending champion Washington Nationals, Houston Astros, and St. Louis Cardinals – all canceled their July 6 workouts due to not receiving tests back from prior to last weekend.

Several other teams including Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Arizona Diamondbacks also delayed the scheduled time of their workouts or made portions of them optional due to similar reasons, extending several days of virus-related angst around the league as teams begin preparation for the planned July 23 restart of the season.

The Angels and New York Yankees additionally were forced to collect their own saliva samples for testing when personnel did not show at the team’s training site on July 5. 

The delays prompted Nationals president of baseball operations and general manager Mike Rizzo to call on MLB to tighten its testing and reporting procedures.

“Without accurate and timely testing, it is simply not safe for us to continue with Summer Camp,” Rizzo said. “Major League Baseball needs to work quickly to resolve issues with their process and their lab. Otherwise, Summer Camp and the 2020 season are at risk.”

John Mozeliak, Cardinals president of baseball operations, similarly said “there’s been a little frustration in our camp in terms of getting some test results.”

The Athletic, meanwhile, reported David Forst, A’s general manager, sent a WhatsApp message to team employees on July 5 saying in part, “At this point, the blame lies with [testing company Comprehensive Drug Testing] and MLB and I won’t cover for them like I did earlier today. Despite having our schedule a week ahead of time, they didn’t aleret us to the possibility of any complications around July 4, and once there were issues, they did nothing to communicate that to us or remedy the situation until [the A’s] forced the issue…If possible, I’m as frustrated and pissed as your are.”

Numerous players also voiced concerns about the operational issues surrounding MLB’s initial testing and reporting.

“If we can’t nail the easy part, which is right now and just our players, we’ve got a big hill to climb,” said Chicago Cubs infielder Kris Bryant.

MLB said in a statement that 86 samples, representing about 2 per cent of the 3,740 samples collected between June 27 and July 3, remained pending as of the start of July 6. The league pinned the delay on issues related to the July 4 holiday weekend in the United States.

“Our plan required extensive delivery and shipping services, including proactive special accommodations to account for the holiday weekend,” the league said. “The vast majority of those deliveries occurred without incident and allowed the protocols to function as planned. Unfortunately, several situations included unforeseen delays. We have addressed the delays caused by the holiday weekend and do not expect a recurrence.”

Atlanta Braves outfielder Nick Markakis, meanwhile, became the latest player to opt out of the season due to health concerns.