Perhaps 30 minutes after Mariners manager Scott Servais met with the media via video conference Wednesday, answering questions about the upcoming 2021 season and the possibility of his players getting vaccinated, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that all people in the state of Washington age 16 or older would be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine on April 15.
That announcement came after the federal government informed state officials that the state would continue to see an increase in their supply of vaccine doses for the next few weeks.
When asked about it Wednesday, Servais said that his players weren’t eligible under the current requirements, and repeated his off-used mantra that they would not “jump the line” or take preferential treatment over people more in need of the vaccine.
But the expansion of vaccine eligibility opens it up for Mariners players and coaches to receive the vaccine.
“It’s great to hear that I swayed Gov. Inslee to move up the time,” Servais joked in Thursday’s pregame video media sessions. “I didn’t know I had that kind of power, but it worked out, and I’m sure he’s a Mariners fan, he’s gonna do everything he can to help us out.”
The Mariners will be returning from their first road trip of the season on April 15 and be in Seattle from April 16-20 for a brief homestand.
Besides the obvious health and safety benefits of the vaccine, Major League Baseball sent a three-page memo to teams encouraging them to push for vaccinations throughout the organization. It also outlined a relaxation of some of the league’s strict COVID-19 protocols and guidelines if 85% of a team’s personnel classified as Tier One — players, managers, coaches, bullpen catchers, team medical staff, strength and conditioning coaches and any support staff flying on a team plane — were vaccinated.
What would be different?
Once a team reaches the 85% threshold, vaccinated players and staff would be able to eat and drink on flights, play cards and could gather in indoor places like hotels without masks or social distancing provided no non-vaccinated people are present. Players could also carpool or use ride-share services and go to restaurants.
Beyond comfort, the bigger benefits would be that vaccinated people who have close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 would not have to quarantine unless they showed symptoms. Players would not have wear masks in the dugouts or bullpen during games or wear the tracking devices that monitor their movement. They also would see clubhouse amenities such as saunas, steam rooms, pool tables, ping-pong tables and video games return to normal.
Also, family members who are vaccinated would be able to stay with vaccinated players and staff in hotel rooms during road trips. Players and staff would be able to meet with anyone on road trips in an outdoor setting, and they would not have to report to compliance officers any time they leave the hotel and could stay in their permanent homes on road trips.
“I do think it’s a competitive advantage if you can get 85% of the people in Tier One vaccinated and Tier One includes everybody that really travels with you,” Servais said. “I’m hopeful that we can get there.”
Servais hasn’t had a team meeting to discuss vaccination or encourage his players to receive it.
“For the most part, our guys are in the information gathering stage of it,” he said. “I know we’ve sent some emails through Slack and different things that came out yesterday to all of our players. So they all understand kind of the protocols that are in place if you don’t get to 85%, and if you do get to the 85%, so it’s obviously something I’d like to see us get there. But you know, getting the vaccine (is an) individual choice.”
With the policy being changed less than 24 hours before, the Mariners are still in the planning process of trying to offer it to players.
“We’ll have to wait and see from medical people that we lean on, trying to figure out, what vaccination is available, the timing of it all, where we’re at, are we home on, or on the road?” Servais said. “All those logistical things need to be tightened up, and our players continue to ask a lot of questions, and we’re giving them as many answers as we can.”
After what was deemed as a successful spring of avoiding mass infections, MLB had opening day marred with at least three members of the Washington Nationals testing positive for COVID-19. The opening day game at Nats Park vs. the Mets was canceled and it’s unclear if the series will be canceled.
“You don’t want anything like that to get in the way or disrupting your season,” Servais said. “But that’s why we’ve got to follow the protocols of what’s been laid out there. We’ve been doing it for a while. The guys know what’s at stake if we don’t do it. Again, I’m a proponent of getting the vaccine. I hope everybody does, not just on our team, but throughout the state of Washington as soon as possible.”