Blue Jays notebook: How players can return after a positive COVID-19 test

Legendary broadcaster Dan Shulman joins Tim and Sid to break down the latest news from MLB, and discusses what Tim should name his new dog.

TORONTO – An oft-touted tenet of Major League Baseball’s health and safety protocol is that any player infected with COVID-19 must produce two negative tests before he can return to the field.

Well, that’s not necessarily the case, as the 2020 Operations Manual has a pivotal footnote that addresses the very real possibility that someone can continue to return positive results even after they have fully recovered from the virus.

And that’s also why the initial slate of positive results upon intake – 31 players and seven staffers across 19 teams out of 3,185 samples as announced Friday – can be viewed as a by-product of the communities people arrived from, rather than an ominous indication of MLB’s ability to keep clubhouses safe from this point forward.

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“What the virus tests do is they look for nucleic acid, look for parts of the virus, and then they multiply them if they’re there, and then they hope to detect them,” says Dr. Andrew Morris, medical director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Sinai Health System/University Health Network and an infectious diseases professor at the University of Toronto.

“The nucleic acid of dead and live virus look exactly the same,” he continues. “So you may have ongoing dead virus particles, which is often what happens after people are infected and have successfully survived it. Those tests will just keep picking up dead virus.”

To account for that, the Operations Manual includes the following addendum to Section 2.3.2, which details the care and monitoring for anyone infected:

“If a Covered Individual continues to test positive on repeat PCR tests, and the treating physician feels that inactive noninfectious viral particles are the reason for the prolonged PCR test results, the Joint Committee’s medical advisors may approve clearance of the individual upon an analysis of the circumstances and test results, provided that all other requirements for clearance (including a lack of symptomology) are satisfied.”

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In other words, if a player is still testing positive but meets the other return-to-play criteria – no fever for at least 72 hours without any suppressants; the improvement of any respiratory symptoms; the completion of at least one antibody test; a cardiac evaluation, at the discretion of the team physician; a conclusion by the club doctor, other treating physicians and the Joint Committee that the person isn’t a threat to infect others and is healthy enough to return; and all local regulations are satisfied – he can return without the two negative tests.

The possibility of detecting dead particles is also important context when evaluating the initial intake numbers for all sports.

Prevalence of the coronavirus in several parts of the United States is without a doubt a risk, but evaluation of MLB’s plan or the NBA and NHL’s hubs, really begins once they’re together, with players trying to remain COVID-free after screening.

“When you see people being tested like this, many of those people may not have any infection at all,” says Morris. “Because there’s so much disease in Florida or Texas, when you test people you have to assume that it’s a recent infection. But, and this has been discussed widely, when you initially test people and they’re positive, you have no idea when they acquired it. That’s the advantage of testing everyone upfront, is if you know that they’re all negative, any new positive you can fairly assume that it’s either a false positive, which occurs but is not that common, or it’s a true positive, which is far more likely and a new infection.”

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McGUIRE CASE RESOLVED: Toronto Blue Jays catcher Reese McGuire pleaded guilty and was levied a $450 fine after the State reduced an exposure of sexual organs charge to disorderly conduct, according to the Pinellas County’s Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller’s office.

The case was resolved Wednesday after months of delays caused when COVID 19 forced the suspension of a slate of proceedings, and McGuire will be part of the Blue Jays’ travel party north.

McGuire was arrested Feb. 7 and charged with exposure of sexual organs, a first-degree misdemeanour punishable by up to one year in jail and fines up to $1,000.

He was seen exposing himself inside a sports-utility vehicle parked in a strip mall, and Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office deputies were called to the scene, where the 25-year-old was co-operative and did not deny allegations.

Disorderly conduct is a second-degree misdemeanour punishable by up to 60 days in jail, six months of probation and fines of up to $500. McGuire was also to pay a $50 cost of prosecution.

McGuire arrived at the first spring training expected to share catching duties during the regular season with Danny Jansen. In nine Grapefruit League games before the suspension of camp, he was 4-for-20 with a homer and three RBIs.

Richard Deitsch and Donnovan Bennett host a podcast about how COVID-19 is impacting sports around the world. They talk to experts, athletes and personalities, offering a window into the lives of people we normally root for in entirely different ways.

NON-ROSTER LIMBO: The Blue Jays did not include Marc Rzepczynski on their 60-man player pool, but that doesn’t mean the left-hander invited to spring training on a minor-league deal is a free agent.

The 34-year-old reliever, like other free agents on minor-league contracts left on the sidelines, is in limbo, and Major League Baseball is considering giving such players the right to opt-out, rather than making them ask for their release.

That small technicality is an important one, because if Rzepczynski opts out, he can still return to the Blue Jays, but if he asks for his release, he cannot. At this point, that doesn’t appear to be in the cards, but a run of injuries or COVID-19 infections could change that.

Righties Ryan Dull and Phillippe Aumont, who recently told CBC Radio that he was retiring to take up farming, and catcher Patrick Cantwell are other Blue Jays in the same boat as Rzepczynski.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

SHORT HOPS While the shortened season has led the Blue Jays to drastically reimagine how to deploy their pitching staff, at this point they aren’t considering such major changes to the position player side. The most likely alteration to expect would be seeing a diversity of lineups leveraging the positional flexibility on the roster. Still, as the abbreviated camp starts rolling, two areas to keep an eye on are at third base, and centre field. If Vladimir Guerrero Jr., isn’t able to replicate his defensive progress from the spring, he and Travis Shaw could swap infield corners. And in centre field, Anthony Alford and Jonathan Davis (currently on the IL), could force their ways into more playing time there, pushing Randal Grichuk back to right.

Colleague Hazel Mae reported that first-round pick Austin Martin and the Blue Jays are in agreement on a deal, pending a physical. It’s believed that fourth-round pick Nick Frasso is in the same boat, and that both deals could be announced this week.

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