ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — They've had 20 wins, 16 losses and now at least 8 cases of COVID-19 among vaccinated coaches, staff and a shortstop. The New York Yankees are in St. Petersburg to play the Rays at Tropicana Field and are undergoing testing three times daily.
“These players aren’t in a bubble,” said Dr. Jason Salemi, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida. “They’re interacting with other people, and they’re coming in close proximity to one another; and so this virus absolutely can still be spread.”
The news is surprising to many considering the Yankees involved were fully vaccinated, receiving the single dose Johnson and Johnson shot more than 14 days ago. Experts now want to know when the infections actually occurred.
“I would just want to confirm that these are truly breakthrough cases,” said Salemi. “Were these people who are starting to interact and actually got infected in that 14 day window.”
Dr. Salemi says he’s not all that surprised by the number of Yankees infected.
“The vaccines are not designed to prevent you from getting infected in the first place. They’re designed to prevent severe illness and death," he explained.
Out of 95 million people fully vaccinated across the United States, the CDC is reporting 9,245 known breakthrough cases of COVID-19 as of late April. Of those, 835 were hospitalized and 132 died.
But 7 infections in a group as small as the Yankees?
“This is unsurprising in a population that is routinely being tested as frequently as professional athletes are,” said Salemi. “I can guarantee you that if everyone got vaccinated in United States and gets tested every day we’re going to find a ton of breakthrough cases. But what we should find a lot less of our hospitalizations.”
The Yankees so far report all but one of those testing positive are asymptomatic.
Yankees Manager Aaron Boone talked about the cases during a news conference with the media on Wednesday.
“Being vaccinated in mass like we are we’re seeing the vaccination blunt the effects of the virus,” Boone said.
That means fellow players and staff are unlikely to get seriously ill. The risk, according to Dr. Salemi, comes when someone positive for COVID-19 exposes a person who hasn’t had the vaccine.
“They can continue to pass the virus and now the unvaccinated people are unprotected and they are at much higher risk of being hospitalized and dying,” he said.
New York Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres was kept out of Wednesday night’s starting lineup at Tropicana Field as a precaution. On Thursday, the Yankees confirmed he would be out again after testing positive for COVID-19.
As NBC New York reports, Torres is fully vaccinated and had previously had coronavirus during the offseason.
The members of New York’s traveling party have been tested at least three times each since Tuesday.
The Yankees take on the Tampa Bay Rays again at 7:10 p.m. Thursday.
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