Two more Nationals players, and potentially a third, have now tested positive for COVID-19, all of them close contacts to the original player who learned Wednesday he had tested positive, leaving the team's season-opening series against the Mets in flux.
General manager Mike Rizzo delivered that new batch of unpleasant news early this evening after the results of the tests the entire team took Wednesday morning came back. The Nationals now have reason to believe four of their players in total have tested positive for the coronavirus, with one of them at this point having shown symptoms (a fever).
The club must now enact even more contact tracing to determine who was near the newly discovered infected players, and until there's a clearer answer to that question, there's no clear answer on when the 2021 season will begin.
"We're not sure," Rizzo said during a joint Zoom press conference with manager Davey Martinez. "We're doing extensive contact tracing today after the new positive. So when we find out just the amount of people, and where they're at and their timeline, we'll have a lot better picture of this. ... Obviously, our intent is to play, but we need to do that in a safe manner that protects the players and their families, our fans and our staff members."
To this point, Major League Baseball has only announced the postponement of Thursday's scheduled season opener and said it will not be made up Friday. The Nationals and Mets are scheduled to play Saturday at 4:05 p.m. and Sunday at 1:05 p.m., but their chances of taking the field for either or both of those games would appear to be at least in serious question.
The pertinent timeline of events so far ...
* The entire team was tested Monday prior to its final Grapefruit League finale, then boarded a charter plane bound for Washington. Players had Tuesday off to get settled into their homes and apartments and were set to workout at Nationals Park on Wednesday. That workout, though, was canceled both because of rain and after one player's test came back positive for COVID-19. Four more players and one staff member were deemed close contacts and quarantined.
* The entire team went through another round of PCR saliva testing Wednesday morning, the results of which came back this afternoon. Those results showed two more confirmed positives and another "likely positive," according to Rizzo. All three of those players were among the group that was deemed close contacts to the player who originally tested positive.
* The five players who have either tested positive or been deemed close contacts to date are officially in quarantine. Per MLB protocols, players who test positive must stay quarantined a minimum of 10 days, with close contacts quarantined a minimum of seven days. The District of Columbia has stricter regulations which could supersede MLB's protocols.
Regardless, all players and staffers are currently under what the GM referred to as "Mike Rizzo-mandated quarantine until we get this thing figured out."
Nobody is reporting to Nationals Park except for testing (another round was taken Thursday) and players are left to attempt to stay baseball-ready as best they can on their own at home.
"If they've got a yard or a basement or something, just do what they can to stay loose, stay in shape," Martinez said. "Right now, we're in sort of a self-quarantine to make sure that everybody's going to be OK. With that being said, these guys have got to move around, they've got to do something. We've got to keep them as loose as we possibly can."
The Nationals are still attempting to determine how the first player was infected in the first place, though Rizzo was adamant the unnamed player did not break protocols. (The club had zero positive tests throughout spring training.)
One of the three known positives produced symptoms (a fever); the other two are asymptomatic at this point. The player whose most recent test produced a "likely positive" result is also asymptomatic, and his sample is being re-tested to confirm the diagnosis.
Though a handful of other clubs (including the Cardinals and Astros) have been able to vaccinate any players who want them in recent days, the Nationals are not yet in a position to be able to do that, according to Rizzo. D.C. has not opened up vaccinations to the general population yet, only to those deemed to be most in need of them.
"We're pursuing all the avenues to get players vaccinated, if they choose to do so," said Rizzo, who has received his first dose and is encouraging everyone to get theirs when available. "But we also have to be cognizant of not taking vaccines from a person who may need it more than the players do. So it's a fine line. But we are looking for a way to vaccinate our ballclub. We want to do it the right way at the right time, as to not take it away from anyone that needs it more than the players."
In the meantime, the Nationals can only wait. Wait to learn if anyone else has tested positive. Wait to learn when they'll be cleared to begin their season. Wait to learn when vaccines will be available to them.
"It's a shame that we can't play today, but we need to stay positive," Martinez said. "I've talked to a lot of players, and my concern is about their health and safety. And they're going to stay positive. ... We're going to get through this. This isn't the first time we've been through some bumpy roads. We've been there, and we're going to come back from this and we're going to play baseball."
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