Bubbles Matter. The Miami Marlins Coronavirus Outbreak is Proof
By: Rhea Agrawal
The Miami Marlins, a professional baseball team from Miami, Florida, paused their season on Tuesday and will not play any games until next Sunday, after the team suffered a COVID-19 outbreak and 17 players and coaches tested positive for the virus.
Multiple North American sports leagues, such as the NBA, WNBA, MLS, NWSL, and NHL, are requiring all the teams to isolate in a “bubble,” an environment closed off from the public where players and staff can eat, sleep, and play their games while being frequently tested for the virus. Thus far, the bubbles seem to be working for leagues using them; the NBA declared zero positive tests within its bubble in Orlando.
“The real difference,” said Emory University epidemiologist Zachary Binney, “seems to be bubble versus no-bubble.”
Players for MLB are still able to live in their own communities and travel from around the country, where the conditions of the pandemic are getting more severe, for their games.
“I totally understand that having players be at home with their families is good from social, emotional perspective,” Binney said, “But the more contact you have with members of your community, the more there’s a chance for the disease to spread among players in your team, and to other teams, and to other communities. If you’re trying to play in communities with a lot of cases, you’re going to have outbreaks in your sport.”
Baseball’s plan to go from city to city furthers the risk of spreading the virus around the country. Even though tests are done every other day, it could take up to 48 hours to get the results in states like New Jersey and Utah. That could lead to a player getting infected after taking the test and still playing, while unknowingly spreading the disease.
On Sunday, the Marlins decided to play their game in Philadelphia, despite the fact that starting pitcher Jose Urena has tested positive for the coronavirus. By the next day, the virus had spread throughout the team like a wildfire.
“What alarms me most is the speed through which COVID-19 ripped through the Marlins clubhouse,” says Binney. “I did not think it could move through a baseball team that quickly. It’s really alarming, off the charts worse than I ever expected.” He says that he would be “shocked” if the Marlins’ coronavirus outbreak was contained within their team.
The outbreak is not good news for other sports that plan to host a season without a bubble, especially football. Colleges are facing financial pressure to have a college football season this fall and NFL training camps are already taking place despite concerns for the virus. Football teams have even more players than baseball, which could potentially lead to even bigger outbreaks.
The bubbles seem to be an effective way for sports leagues to continue their seasons while keeping their players safe; sports that do not have a plan to use them have much higher chances of further spreading the virus.