MLB, NHL teams close Florida facilities, dampening outlook for sports in COVID-19 era
The hope for a return of professional sports in North America took a hit on Friday as two teams from MLB and one from the NHL closed their Florida facilities after players tested positive for the new coronavirus.
The Philadelphia Phillies shut down its Clearwater, Florida, site after five players and three members of the Major League Baseball team’s staff tested positive.
“All facilities in Clearwater have been closed indefinitely to all players, coaches and staff and will remain closed until medical authorities are confident that the virus is under control and our facilities are disinfected,” Phillies managing partner John Middleton said.
The Toronto Blue Jays shut down their Dunedin, Florida, training center after “a player presented symptoms consistent with those of the virus.”
“The Blue Jays are following protocols put in place for this scenario, including guidelines from MLB and the club’s medical team,” a club spokesperson said.
The National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning closed its arena after three players and some staff members were confirmed to be infected.
“Those players have been self-isolating following CDC protocols and are asymptomatic other than a few cases of low-grade fever,” General Manager Julien BriseBois wrote in a statement posted to the team’s Twitter account. “Those who have been in contact with these individuals have been notified.”
Florida is one of several U.S. states that have seen their number of infections and COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, surge recently. This week it logged more than 2,600 new cases in a single 24-hour period, its second-highest daily increase since the outbreak began in March.
The news could further complicate the sports’ return to play, with the NHL hoping to have a 24-team playoff format this summer and the MLB locked in fierce debate with its players over when and how to start its 2020 season.
MLB put its season on hold in March as the coronavirus shredded the professional sports calendar and sent many players and fans on lockdown. Commissioner Rob Manfred said this week that the 2020 season was in doubt.
The NHL outlined its playoff plan last month, with games expected to take place in two “hub cities.” Teams were cleared to reopen practice facilities last week.
Both the National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer have announced plans to restart their seasons at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
The Women’s National Basketball Association said earlier this week that it would start its 2020 season next month in Bradenton, Florida.
By Amy Tennery