The Yankees’ coronavirus outbreak increased to seven confirmed cases on Wednesday.
Three of the team’s coaches and four of its support staff members — all seven people are fully vaccinated, and thus considered breakthrough cases — have tested positive and are in quarantine. All but one of them are asymptomatic, Manager Aaron Boone said before the Yankees’ game against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Yankees withheld shortstop Gleyber Torres from the starting lineup as his virus test results were pending and on the advice of the joint Major League Baseball and players’ union committee overseeing the health and safety protocols during the pandemic, Boone said.
Despite a growing number of cases, Wednesday’s game was not in jeopardy, Boone said, and it started as scheduled. The Yankees had been enjoying relaxed health and safety protocols under rules negotiated by M.L.B. and the players’ union for reaching the threshold of having at least 85 percent of the club’s traveling party fully vaccinated.
The Yankees’ outbreak began with the third-base coach Phil Nevin on Sunday, when the team flew from New York to Florida to face the Rays. (Nevin, along with Boone, received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine during spring training in March.) The Yankees were tested extensively on Monday, when they had a scheduled day off, and again before Tuesday’s 3-1 win over the Rays.
M.L.B. conducted contact tracing, and no players were identified as close contacts. It also helped that the Yankees had largely been vaccinated, which blunted the impact and spread of the virus and changed how their situation was handled. Last season, M.L.B. postponed 45 games after outbreaks and cases, and the leagues had already done so seven times this season.
“I feel like, in a lot of ways, because we’re vaccinated, we’re kind of good and able to deal with this,” said Boone, who also expressed a bit of frustration because the virus testing was now so good it could detect even small traces of the virus.
Added Yankees pitcher Jameson Taillon: “Our guys’ getting over the 85 percent vaccination threshold has eased everybody’s mind a little bit.”
Before Tuesday’s game, some Yankees players had been worried, and the team met to talk and hear from medical experts. Taillon said there was no doubt they would play, and the team voted unanimously to do so. After Tuesday’s game, the Yankees said their confirmed cases had grown to three.
“We’re a family in there, and we have to be all together,” Taillon said before Wednesday’s game. “We don’t want to take the field even if one of the guys is nervous about playing. We just had to get it out there, address it.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breakthrough cases are to be expected despite the effectiveness of vaccines.
“Even though a small percentage of fully vaccinated people will get sick, vaccination will protect most people from getting sick,” the C.D.C.’s website says. “There also is some evidence that vaccination may make illness less severe in people who get vaccinated but still get sick.”
The three absent coaches on Wednesday were the first-base coach Reggie Willits, the pitching coach Matt Blake and Nevin. Asymptomatic while in quarantine, Blake has still been taking part in pregame planning meetings over video calls and using text messages or FaceTime to communicate with pitchers.
The Yankees dipped into their player development staff, calling on people like the minor league coordinator Mario Garza and the director of pitching Sam Briend to help fill in the gaps on the coaching staff. The Yankees declined to name the four support staff members who had tested positive.
Boone said he expected Torres’s test results to arrive on Wednesday night. He said Torres had already contracted the virus in December and had developed antibodies. The test results, which are checked by the committee, have been arriving at different times. Everyone in the Yankees’ traveling party, which is around 60 people, is being tested at least three times a day using polymerase chain reaction, saliva and rapid tests.
Even though several players and key staff members across M.L.B. have been reluctant to be vaccinated, the Yankees were among the five M.L.B. teams that reached the 85 percent threshold, the league and the players’ union said last week. Another seven would join them once they have reached the two-week mark after which vaccine recipients are considered fully vaccinated.
The relaxed rules allow, among other things, going without masks in the dugout or the bullpen, indoor dining and visitors at the team hotel.
Even having earned the relaxed rules, the Yankees reverted to stricter mask wearing and distancing at Tropicana Field on Tuesday and Wednesday. Taillon said he had warmed up in the outfield on Wednesday afternoon, instead of in the weight room, because he had wanted to avoid confined spaces.
“For a little bit there, we thought we were past it with all the vaccines and just the time we were removed from our vaccines, past the two-week threshold,” he said.
He added later: “Since we were past that threshold, we weren’t wearing our masks the same way we were when we were forced to. For a little bit there, we were getting pretty comfortable, because that’s what the rules called for. Now, we’ll tighten it back up and hopefully everyone stays safe, and we can keep this thing rolling.”
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