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MLB releases COVID-19 health and safety protocols for 2021

All 30 teams are required to submit a written COVID-19 Action Plan, and everyone will need to quarantine and have a negative COVID-19 test before spring training.

WASHINGTON — Major League Baseball on Tuesday announced its new health and safety protocols for the 2021 season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The 108-page operations manual agreed to Monday night expands on the 101-page version used during the shortened 2020 season.

The league said it built on its 2020 plan. New this season is that the MLB will require all 30 teams to submit a written COVID-19 Action Plan and appoint an Infection Control Prevention Coordinator and a Compliance Officer who will be responsible for making sure teams follow its protocols.

All players will need a mandatory five-day at-home quarantine prior to reporting to spring training and must have a negative diagnostic/PCR and antibody/serology testing.

Anyone who tests positive for the virus will be required to isolate for a minimum of 10 days and be cleared by the Joint Committee and the individual’s team physician before they can return to the field. If someone has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, there will be a mandatory seven-day quarantine and required negative COVID-19 test.

The manual states violations of the MLB or club codes of conduct or of spring training home quarantine “are subject to potential discipline, including but not limited to suspension or forfeiture of salary for days spent away from the club while in mandatory self-isolation or quarantine resulting from the violation.”

Player discipline would be subject to the just cause provisions of the collective bargaining agreement.

“We were able to complete a successful and memorable 2020 season due to the efforts and sacrifices made by our players, Club staff and MLB employees to protect one another," the MBL said in a statement. "The 2021 season will require a redoubling of those efforts as we play a full schedule with increased travel under a non-regionalized format"

The upgraded health protocols have all been agreed upon by the Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association. 

Social distancing, limited gatherings and face coverings must be properly worn at all times when in team's facilities and while in the dugout.

Major League Baseball players, on-field staff and non-playing personnel who require access to them at ballparks must wear electronic tracing wristbands from the start of spring training and face discipline for violations.

Players will be encouraged to get vaccines but are not required to get them.

“Every covered Individual must wear a Kinexon contact tracing device at all times while in club facilities and during club directed travel and while engaged in team activities, including group workouts and practices,” the manual says. “Repeated failure to wear the devices or repeated failure to return the devices to the Kinexon device docking station may be a basis for discipline,” the manual says. 

“Vaccination for COVID-19 will be voluntary for all players. However, MLB and the MLBPA will strongly encourage players to undergo vaccination at the appropriate time,” the manual states.

It adds “the parties, in consultation with their respective medical experts, will consider in good faith relaxing these protocols on a league-wide, team-wide and/or individual basis” ... (to) the extent it is safe and appropriate to do so" when sufficient players are immunized.

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Players, on-field staff and non-playing personnel who require access to them may not during spring training, the season or the postseason go to indoor restaurants, bars, fitness centers, casinos or any indoor gathering of 10 or more people.

Active rosters will return to 26 from opening day through Aug. 31 and 28 for the rest of the regular season, as originally intended for 2020, down from the 28 used throughout last season. Each team can travel with up to five taxi squad players for road games, and if all five are used one must be a player designated before the season as a catcher. The taxi squad players must return to the alternate training site after each trip.

A team experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak may expand its active roster without the added players having to be optioned, sent outright to the minors or placed on waivers when impacted players return.

Carrying over from the 2020 season, seven-inning doubleheaders and runners on second base to start extra innings will return. However, the deal did not include last year’s experimental rule to extend the designated hitter to the National League or expanded playoffs. After allowing 16 teams in the postseason last year instead of 10, MLB had proposed 14 for this year before withdrawing that plan last month.

Spring training opens Feb. 17 and the season starts April 1. The union last week rejected MLB's proposal to delay spring training and opening day until April 28, a plan that would have led to a compressed schedule of 154 games per team instead of the usual 162.

Last season's start was delayed from March 26 to July 23 because of the pandemic, and each team's schedule was cut to 60 games. 

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Credit: AP
FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2020, file photo, baseballs occupy a bucket after use during fielding practice during spring training baseball workouts for pitchers and catchers at Cleveland Indians camp in Avondale, Ariz.