NEW YORK – Major League Baseball is dropping regular COVID-19 testing for all but symptomatic individuals while maintaining an ability to move games if the public health situation in an area deteriorates.
MLB and the players’ association finalized their 2022 coronavirus protocols on Tuesday, easing pandemic restrictions five days after reaching a collective bargaining agreement. Some on-field issues have not yet been addressed, such as whether to continue the pandemic rule calling for “ghost runners” at second base in extra innings.
"MLB has the right during the championship season to relocate club(s) to neutral sites, spring training sites or other clubs' home ballparks, and/or reschedule games contained in the 2022 championship season schedule, if necessary, for health/safety reasons, to comply with governmental restrictions or to complete the schedule,” the 18-page protocols state.
“With the consent of the MLBPA (which shall not be unreasonably withheld), MLB also has the right to conduct some or all of the 2022 postseason in neutral sites (including other clubs' home ballparks), or to delay the start of the postseason in order to reschedule championship season games following the completion of the championship season.”
The protocols provide that “MLB intends to postpone games only if necessary to protect the health and safety of club personnel, players and umpires. Games will not be postponed for competitive reasons provided the club has a sufficient number of players available to substitute those players on the active roster who are unavailable to play as a result of COVID-19.”
The sides agreed that “with regard to outdoor games postponed due to COVID-19 during the first 30 days of the championship season, MLB and the clubs will, where practicable, avoid rescheduling such games as a split doubleheader prior to April 30.”
Protocols are less strict than during the past two seasons.
Restrictions, such as wearing facemasks in dugouts, were eased during the 2021 season when a team reached 85% vaccination among players, coaches and other staff with field and clubhouse access.
Six of the 30 teams did not reach 85% last year: Arizona, Boston, the Chicago Cubs, Kansas City, the New York Mets and Seattle.
The requirement for tracing wristbands that were used last year is omitted.
Players still be will tested upon intake in 2022 but will then be tested only when showing signs or reporting symptoms.
Anyone placed on the COVID-19 injured list will not count against a team's active roster. If a player tests positive while designated for assignment, the designation shall be negated and he would go on the COVID-19 IL.
Uniformed personnel “are not required to wear face coverings while on the field or in the dugouts and bullpens,” the protocols state. The same applies to “team charters, trains, buses, etc.," though the federal Transportation Security Administration has a mask mandate in place for flights through April 18.
For indoor hitting tunnels, clubhouses, weight rooms and other indoor areas, players and uniformed staff “must wear approved face coverings when in those areas if required by applicable laws or regulations in that jurisdiction.”
Any mask worn “cannot contain any undue commercialization.”
If a team “experiences a significant number of COVID-19 IL placements” or restricted list placements due to inability to enter Canada over vaccination status, and the commissioner determines “it implicates a club's ability to field a competitive team," then the team can “add substitute players to its major league active list temporarily.” Players added who are then sent back to the minors will not be considered to be an optional or outright assignment.
Each team can have up to five players as a taxi squad, including one catcher.
Player's children are allowed on the field at times designated by teams.
Vaccinated media members are allowed access to clubhouses, the first time for reporters in locker rooms since spring training 2020.
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