MLB’s 2021 new COVID-19 protocols are stricter – and could result in potential fines, suspensions

Major League Baseball and the players union formally agreed to extensive health and safety protocols similar to a year ago, but this time, there will be repercussions for blatant violations, with players and team personnel subjected to suspensions and even a loss of salary for games.

The rules on the field will remain the same as a year ago, except no universal designated hitter, at least for now. Doubleheaders will be seven innings instead of nine, and extra innings will begin with runners on second base.

Spring training games until March 13 may also be shortened to five-inning or seven-inning games if agreed upon by both managers, and the completion of innings will not be required if a pitcher has thrown at least 20 pitches. Pitchers will also be permitted to re-enter games after being removed during spring training.

The protocols, according to a copy obtained by USA TODAY Sports, require players to self-quarantine at home for five days before reporting to spring training, with teams not permitted to have more than 75 players and personnel at their facilities. There will be 26-man rosters that can be expanded to 28 on Sept. 1, including a five-man taxi squad.

Once in camp, they will not be permitted to dine at indoor restaurants, go into bars or clubs, or attend indoor gatherings with more than 10 people. This includes everything from fitness centers, movie theaters and bowling alleys. Players and team personnel also are restricted from leaving the team hotel on the road except for team activities, picking up outdoor/curbside food, golf, outdoor walks and exercise.

Astros 2B Jose Altuve puts on a mask before a game last season.

Players also are prohibited from having guests, or even family members, inside their rooms at their team hotels. They will be permitted only to meet outdoors with family or household members or in a semi-private outdoor space at the hotel. They also are not permitted to dine in the hotel restaurant or bar.

They also are required to wear a Kinexon contract tracing device, like the NBA and NFL, permitting clubs to conduct contract tracing if a player or personnel member tests positive, while also monitoring social distancing. Players will also be subject to temperature checks and daily symptom screens will be conducted twice a day for the entire season and monthly antibody tests.

Those who test positive will have to quarantine for at least 10 days and won’t be allowed to access team facilities during that time. Players will have to undergo a cardiac evaluation (“e.g., ECG and ECHO”) before returning and asymptomatic individuals must remain so for the entire isolation period.

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The protocols also require the mandatory wearing of masks while at their facilities. It’s not mandatory for players and personnel to undergo the COVID-19 vaccine, but it is strongly encouraged that they be vaccinated when it becomes available to them.

“MLB and the MLBPA will work with public health authorities on issues related to the availability and timing of vaccinations for players, club staff, and other individuals subject to these protocols,’’ the memo reads. “Vaccinations will be made available to Covered Individuals pursuant to these protocols (or additional protocols developed by the parties) only after the relevant public health officials have deemed that it is appropriate to proceed. However, nothing in these protocols shall prevent or otherwise restrict a Covered Individual from receiving an FDA-authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccination if such individual is otherwise eligible under applicable laws or regulations.’’

Players must undergo intake screening once they arrive to spring training, including a PRC test, rapid antibody testing and a temperature checks. Testing will be conducted every other day during spring training and the regular season. MLB also will offer testing for those living in the same household at least once a week when the team is at home.

MLB also has the right to relocate games to neutral sites, including postseason games, or even delay the postseason.

Players will be prohibited from entering the ballpark earlier than five hours before the first pitch. They will have access to personal in-game video this year, but will not be permitted to be in a video room during games.

No one is permitted to change seats on team flights, while teams will be required to schedule at least six bus trips every 20 minutes for players and personnel on the road.

The safety and health protocols are demanding, and quite harsh, but necessary MLB officials insist, if there’s any way for a 162-game season to be played this season.

Now, we’ll see if it works.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

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