The expected exultation that opening day brings — particularly for a team that hasn’t had the chance for a World Series victory lap in front of fans — was derailed Thursday, when coronavirus issues prompted MLB to postpone the Washington Nationals’ season opener.
General manager Mike Rizzo said Thursday night that the Nationals had two additional confirmed positive cases among players, bringing the team’s total to three confirmed cases. There’s another “likely” positive case, although the test came back inconclusive and requires additional testing, Rizzo said.
The Nationals had placed four players in quarantine Wednesday after one player tested positive from a test taken Monday. Three of those players deemed close contacts to the infected player Wednesday have since become confirmed positives or likely positives in the latest round of testing.
Washington is undergoing additional contact tracing efforts to see if more players will need to officially quarantine. But the rest of the team is under “Mike Rizzo-mandated quarantine until we get this thing figured out,” Rizzo said.
In the meantime, the Nationals don’t know when their season will begin. MLB announced Thursday’s postponed game against the New York Mets wouldn’t take place Friday. Whether Washington can play Saturday or Sunday — or later — remains to be seen.
“When we find out just the amount of people and where they’re at in their timeline, we’ll have a lot better picture of this,” Rizzo said. “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.”
Rizzo said he didn’t know how the initial player contracted the coronavirus, but he was adamant his players didn’t break protocol. The Nationals had no positive cases during spring training, Rizzo said.
After learning of the initial positive case, contact tracing efforts commenced, as well as more testing. According to MLB protocols, close contacts must quarantine for at least seven days. Before they can return, they must test negative on day five or later and show no symptoms.
And the MLB requires players who test positive to isolate for a minimum of 10 days, undergo a cardiac evaluation and show no symptoms before they can return.
But the Nationals may be without those players for a longer period because of D.C. coronavirus restrictions. According to the D.C. health department’s guidelines, a close contact who has not had the coronavirus in the last 90 days or who is not fully vaccinated should quarantine for at least 10 days.
“We’re in concert with both MLB and D.C.,” Rizzo said. “We did the same thing last year, and we have an open communication and it’s really on a case-by-case basis. But yeah, it could be anywhere from seven to 10 days.”
When the Nationals are cleared to play, they will require some reinforcements from their alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Va. Rizzo said all the players there have tested negative, and that facility can commence baseball operations.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Nationals Park was used only as a testing site for Washington players. Rizzo hopes the team will be back in the ballpark soon, depending on the latest testing results. Manager Dave Martinez told his players to stay in shape however they can while isolating.
On March 26, MLB announced there had been a total of 33 positive cases across spring training, spanning from intake testing in February to the final days of exhibition games — a 0.04% positive rate.
Last year, Washington experienced another coronavirus-related opening day mishap. Juan Soto was held out of the lineup for multiple days after receiving what he said was a false positive. Other teams, such as the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, experienced widespread coronavirus interruptions during the season.
Now, as the 2021 campaign is just beginning, the coronavirus has struck the Nationals.
“We’re still in the midst of a pandemic, and people need to take this seriously. I mean, they really do,” Martinez said. “Unfortunately, it hit us. And we gotta take care of our own now. All I can say is be safe, continue to wear your mask like they ask and know that this can happen to anyone.”