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Baltimore Orioles set for two-month test to see if baseball, COVID-19 can co-exist

NATHAN RUIZ
The Baltimore Sun (TNS)
Baltimore Orioles manager Brandon Hyde wears a face mask to protect against the new coronavirus while returning to his seat in the stands behind home plate to watch a workout during baseball training camp, Friday, July 3, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Major League Baseball and the Orioles have made it through the three-week trial period.

The two-month test comes next.

Two baseball games that count were set to be played Thursday night, the first down Interstate 95 between the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees and the other across the country between the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, with the Orioles’ matchup against the Boston Red Sox among the contests in Friday’s season-opening slate. They represent the first games in a season in which each team will only play 60 of them because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That pandemic is still happening, and in many states, it’s getting worse. Maryland eclipsed 80,000 cases Wednesday, having averaged 665 cases a day over the past two weeks; the state averaged 368 new cases daily over the final two weeks of June. In Baltimore, indoor dining has been suspended and requirements for mask-wearing have been expanded as the virus’ spread has continued.

Guidelines seem to be working: At Camden Yards, the guidelines agreed upon between Major League Baseball and the players’ union have seemed to be effective. Outfielders Anthony Santander and Dwight Smith Jr. missed the first two weeks or so of camp after testing positive for the virus during intake testing, but both have since rejoined the team, and the club has had no other unexplained extended absences. Caseloads throughout the league have been fractions of the nationwide spread.

But beginning Friday, teams will begin routinely traveling outside of their region. The Orioles left Baltimore twice this week, playing an exhibition in Philadelphia on Sunday and visiting the Nationals on Tuesday. But both trips had quick turnarounds over relatively short distances. The Orioles will play three games in Boston, then head to Miami to face the Marlins twice.

The Maryland numbers: Maryland’s seven-day rolling testing positivity rate was 5.38% through Tuesday’s data, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus research center, ranking 19th among all states.

Massachusetts, where the Orioles will open the season, ranked eighth at 2.35%, but Florida remains one of the states most harshly affected by the nation’s rise in cases, with its rate of 18.87% being the country’s third highest.

Remaining vigilant: Swooping in and out of various areas with higher caseloads presents inherent risks, which is why manager Brandon Hyde said Wednesday “there’s no doubt” the Orioles will have to be exceedingly vigilant on the road.

The reported possibility that the Toronto Blue Jays could also be calling Camden Yards home during the season after both Canada and Pittsburgh declined to host them adds to the opportunities for the virus to spread.

“We’re continuing to talk with our players about the importance of wearing masks all the time, the importance of wearing masks in the clubhouse, social distancing in the dugout, social distancing in the bullpen, during batting practice,” Hyde said. “The things that just aren’t normal for us still aren’t in a lot of ways. We’re getting used to it, but I think it just takes constant reminders. We’re trying to stay on top of it. It’s very, very important to us that we’re following all the protocols. I think it’s just going to take continued conversations and reminding each other about wearing masks, social distancing, etc.”

To this point, those efforts have been effective. Friday, the Orioles will play a game that counts for the first time in almost 10 months.

They hope to be doing the same in another two.