Testing problems?

While three of the four teams in the American League West — the Oakland A’s, Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels — along with the Washington Nationals are experiencing issues with the COVID-19 testing protocols put into place by Major League Baseball and agreed upon the MLB Players’ Association, the Mariners have yet to deal with such difficulties and went through their two scheduled group workouts Monday at T-Mobile Park.

Per reports out of the Bay Area, the A’s experienced delays in getting the players’ saliva samples to the testing facility in Salt Lake City. The tests that were taken going into the weekend were sitting in San Francisco awaiting to be shipped. MLB’s reported reason for the delay was the Fourth of July holiday and FedEx employees having that day off. Because of the delays, the A’s have been unable to hold workouts because their positions players have yet to be cleared.

In Houston, a city that’s become a hot spot for positive tests in recent weeks, the Astros canceled workouts Monday at Minute Maid Park. Astros general manager James Click released a statement, citing the delay in receiving their most recent round of test results from MLB as the reason.

“Due to the delay in receiving these results, coupled with the contagious nature of the virus, we felt it was prudent to cancel today’s workouts. Players and staff continue to participate fully in the screening and testing protocols while we await these results. Despite these delays over the holiday weekend, we’re optimistic that this process will be ironed out and we’ll be back on the field and ready to compete for a championship soon.”

Astros players confirmed to the Houston Chronicle that the test-sample collectors contracted by MLB didn’t show up for work Saturday or Sunday, likely due to the Fourth of July holiday.

In Los Angeles, another hot spot, sample collectors did not show up Saturday or Sunday. The Angels’ medical staff instead administered the tests and sent the samples to Utah.

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto issued a message through a team spokesman, saying his team had not dealt with any unexpected problems with the testing, including the collection of samples or getting the results back.

The Mariners took a proactive approach to the process, encouraging players to arrive in Seattle before the July 3 MLB reporting date to get the intake tests early and MLB clearance done in advance. Dipoto said he felt that by initiating the process early, it might have helped them avoid any delays.

Manager Scott Servais would confirm only that a small number of players had tested positive on the initial intake tests. There also are a handful of players waiting to be cleared. Per his social-media accounts, outfielder Julio Rodriguez, a top prospect, arrived in Seattle on Saturday, got tested and was waiting for clearance.

Due to the regulations of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and an agreement with the MLBPA, teams cannot comment on a player’s test regardless of results. Players must give permission to teams to discuss the situation or discuss it themselves.

Monday, Servais said he would not comment on COVID-19-related issues on any level and added that Dipoto would handle that topic. The Mariners spokesman said Dipoto plans to discuss the team’s testing results Wednesday and likely provide numbers on the intake testing but not necessarily details on players who test positive.

“I got here last Monday and got tested Tuesday and they told me I was good to go Thursday,” Mariners outfielder Braden Bishop said. “You give your sample, you drop it in a bag and then you don’t see it. You don’t see where it goes, who takes it and you don’t know how it gets to where it needs to get to. You just have to trust that it does.

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“The tough part is that nobody has been through this, no team has been through this, the league hasn’t been through it, and players haven’t been through it. We are all kind of learning on the fly, but virus doesn’t give you a chance to learn on the fly. It’s serious. Luckily, we haven’t had any issues.” 

Teams have been frustrated with the process, believing it leads to speculation and assumptions if a player is absent from the field and the reason can’t be discussed. But this is the rule in place.

With reports of testing problems coming out of multiple cities and teams announcing delays to workouts while they await results, MLB released a statement Monday:

“As of today, more than 95% of the tests under the Intake Screening period have been conducted, analyzed and shared with all 30 Clubs. All of the individuals among the 95% have now moved on to the phase that will test them every other day. The remaining number of outstanding tests are expected to be completed today. 

“Our plan required extensive delivery and shipping services, including proactive special accommodations to account for the holiday weekend. The vast majority of those deliveries occurred without incident and allowed the protocols to function as planned. Unfortunately, several situations included unforeseen delays. We have addressed the delays caused by the holiday weekend and do not expect a recurrence. We commend the affected Clubs that responded properly by canceling workouts.

“We appreciate the great cooperation from the players as well as the hard work of the Clubs and many internal and external staff members under these challenging circumstances. The process has not been without some unforeseen difficulties, which are being addressed with the service providers that are essential to the execution of the protocols. It is important to be mindful that nearly all of the individuals have been tested as planned. The health and safety of our players and employees will remain our highest priorities.”

Following are other notes from MLB about the testing process:

  • MLB collected 3,740 Intake Screening samples during the seven-day period between June 27  and July 3, representing all 30 clubs. As of the end of Sunday, the Utah laboratory had reported results for 98% (3,654/3,740) of these samples. The majority of these samples were reported the day after the sample collections occurred.
  •  86 results of these samples (2%) remained pending as of Monday morning. We anticipate that the lab will report the remainder of these pending results Monday afternoon.
  •  Pursuant to the Operations Manual, MLB and the MLBPA shifted from intake testing to regular asymptomatic monitoring as of July 3, and will now be on an every-other-day testing schedule for all players and Tier 1 staff until the end of the 2020 World Series. Due to the holiday weekend, the Joint Committee advised CDT to test all clubs one time between July 3 and July 5, and to begin the every-other-day schedule July 6.
  • The Utah laboratory is conducting a level of analysis and turnaround time that is unprecedented in COVID testing, including providing an extra layer of confirmation for all positive test results to rule out false positive concerns. The laboratory is operating on a seven-day-a-week schedule from July 5 through the end of the World Series.