COVID-19 Protocol To Keep Baseball Safe

(EDITOR’S NOTE: As public service to all baseball coaches, athletic administrators, conferences and summer leagues, Collegiate Baseball is running this complete story to help those trying to formulate a COVID-19 protocol for practices, weight training and games).

(Updated Aug. 6, 2020)

Editor/Collegiate Baseball

ATLANTA, Ga. — What should the protocol be for baseball coaches to protect their teams from coronavirus once they come back to school this fall?

In this special report, Collegiate Baseball presents a detailed look at what health professionals recommend to minimize the risk.

As of press time, there have been over 16.5 million confirmed cases of coronavirus across the world with 653,425 deaths, according to  

Across the USA, there have been 4.3 million confirmed cases as 149,945 people have perished.

Collegiate Baseball found that with precautions in place, practices and weight training can be conducted as well as games played with minimal risk.

All of this information will also be helpful in battling the flu and other ailments as well.

Study after study vividly shows that you are safer wearing face masks, respirators or face gaiters with the coronavirus pandemic taking place.

The Cadillac of respirators is the N95 which health professionals utilize to prevent contracting coronavirus and other viral and bacterial infections.

They have been successful in managing patients with tuberculosis or highly contagious diseases such as influenza and SARS which is closely related to the coronavirus. Another key factor is having the mask fit perfectly over the nose and mouth.

While these masks work great for health professionals, doctors, nurses and dentists report that it can be difficult to breathe with them on for lengthy periods of time.

The athlete must have something more efficient for their needs since they are much more physically active than a health professional.

Realizing this, Randy Cohen, University of Arizona Associate Athletics Director for Medical Services, and Gerry Detty, owner of Pro Orthopedic Devices, Inc., teamed up to design a face gaiter that can protect athletes at Arizona from coronavirus, plus allow athletes to easily breathe. In addition, the material is ultra light.

It essentially is a tube of polyester-spandex that extends from the collarbone to the ridge of the nose.

It is double the thickness of other gaiters currently on the market.

With the thicker material, it has moisture control, and it stands up to daily use and washings. With regular face masks, they trap moisture from sweat which is a big problem for athletes. 

It was reported by the Arizona Daily Star that every Arizona athlete will get two of the gaiters when they return to campus later this summer.

Cohen realized athletes could not easily wear protective face masks for long periods of time because of the cumbersome nature of these masks which pull on the ears. Breathing easily was another vital design element.

He thought about what ultra-marathoners utilize to keep the sand out of their mouths and noses which were much thinner gaiters. So Cohen and Detty went to work to design a potential game-changing protection for athletes. After a number of modifications, the face gaiter for athletes was born.

It also is interesting to note that roofers in Arizona face 150 degree plus temperatures in the sun when working on top of houses every summer.

Many wear face gaiters to keep their skin from being severely burned. The material they use is much thinner which allows sweat to go through the material. Any breeze that comes by cools their faces off.

Sterilizing Equipment
Weight training rooms have always been a breeding ground for bacteria. For years, athletes have been encouraged to wipe down equipment with sanitizing wipes to prevent the spread of germs and especially MRSA.

This bacteria is tougher to treat than most strains or staph because it is resistant to commonly used antibiotics.

Now more than ever, baseball must embrace sterilization treatments of bats and balls that can be teeming with bacteria along with other surfaces that baseball players and coaches touch.

Dr. Herb McReynolds, retired Medical Director of Emergency Services at Carondelet St. Mary’s Hospital in Tucson, Ariz., has been a physician for 40 years.

He played baseball for 40 years, and said that certain procedures can be utilized in baseball to stem the tide of coronavirus, influenza and other germs.

“At a hospital, doctors are expected to use sanitizing gel on their hands before going into a room and then once again when they come out,” said McReynolds.

“Why not do the same on baseball fields or hitting facilities? You could have a Purell Hand Sanitizer Dispenser near the dugout or by the door of each batting cage in a hitting facility. As players come in, they are asked to sanitize their hands. Once practice is over, they can sanitize their hands as they leave.

“It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have hitters own their bats which are never touched by other players. Every bat should be wiped down in the handle areas with Chlorox-based wipes prior to practice and after practice. Players who share bats must wipe down the handles between hitters.

“Players who are obviously sick should be sent home so they don’t spread germs.”

McReynolds said players who are at practice and coughing and sneezing could have the flu, another influenza like virus or coronavirus. A player showing such symptoms must be sent home until he receives a coronavirus test and is cleared.

“What you don’t want a player to do is cough or wipe his nose in his hand. Instead, coaches should ask players to cough or sneeze into their shirt sleeve and NOT into their hands. Many times people will turn away and cough into their hand. This causes a problem in baseball since the hand will touch baseballs that are utilized by many different players.

“If a hitter coughs or wipes his nose in his hand and grabs a bat, guess what happens? There are now germs all over the place on the bat grip. If someone else uses that bat, they will probably be infected.

“It would be an excellent idea for schools to have hand sanitizers in restrooms. Knobs of doors should be disinfected regularly since many people touch them along with faucets.

“Many viruses can live up to 24 hours on a door handle.

“One more piece of advice I would give is to get a flu shot in the fall prior to the flu season. It takes two weeks for the antibodies to work properly.”

When a coronavirus vaccine ultimately is available that is proven to be safe, athletes and coaches should have the vaccine administered to them.

To disinfect dugouts and areas which are non-corrosive, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention suggests using a diluted bleach solution (1/3 cup bleach per gallon of room temperature water). Leave the solution on the surface for at least one minute. Diluted bleach solutions will be effective for disinfection up to 24 hours.

McReynolds said sanitizing baseballs is a unique challenge.

“You obviously can’t use Clorox-based liquids or similar products on the leather because it would ruin baseballs. Hospitals have been using ultraviolet light to disinfect rooms and equipment for years. But these devices are extremely expensive.”

Gloves that defensive players use as well as hitting gloves could be sterilized with ultraviolet light as well.

The protective gear for catchers is typically shared from shin guards, chest protectors to face masks and even catcher’s gloves. Unless each catcher has his own gear, all three must be sanitized prior to different players utilizing them.

If schools work with local hospitals, there is a possibility that they would allow baseballs, gloves shared by players and catcher’s protective equipment to be sterilized with ultraviolet light on a regular basis.

Think of how many times players touch baseballs in practice or the same glove is used by multiple people.

Power Of Ultraviolet Light
Collegiate Baseball contacted Melinda Hart of Xenex Disinfection Services of San Antonio, Tex.

This company sells different machines that hospitals across the USA utilize to disinfect rooms.

“UV has been used for disinfection for decades,” said Hart.

“What makes our robots different is their use of pulsed xenon (not mercury bulbs) to create UV-C light.

“Pathogens (like the flu virus, MRSA and coronavirus) are vulnerable to UV-C light damage at different wavelengths depending on the organism.

“Xenex’s pulsed xenon lamps produce a flash of full spectrum germicidal light across the entire disinfecting spectrum delivered in millisecond pulses.

“I talked to our science team, and it would be possible to put baseballs in our LightStrike Disinfection Pod ($25,000) and disinfect them in just a couple of minutes. Our robot ($125,000) is inside the Pod that does the work.”

In hospitals, these collapsible, mobile units can be positioned anywhere without disrupting or impeding daily workflow to clean equipment such as ventilators, pressure monitors, wheelchairs, ventilators and mobile imagine machines.

Hart said that several of the hospitals that utilize their robots to clean hospital rooms include MD Anderson and the Mayo Clinic. 

Hart acknowledged the price is steep for the robot and Pod. But not having a disinfected room at a hospital can result in serious consequences for new patients being rolled into them. If they contract a dangerous bacteria that was caused by negligence, the treatment to correct the problem could be extremely expensive.

The easy solution is to kill off the germs so rooms are as close to being sterile as possible.  

There are other companies on the internet that have smaller UV-C lamps, but they don’t utilize xenon technology.

We are not aware of any baseball team that has ever utilized such machines to disinfect baseballs. The cost of these small lamps range from $800 on up.

NCAA’s Battle Plan
The NCAA recently came out with a document called Resocialization of Collegiate Sport: Action Plan Considerations.

Among the recommendations:

  • Physical distancing (6 feet or more between people).
  • Utilize masks when physical distancing is not possible.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after touching frequently used items or surfaces. You also can use hand sanitizer.
  • Use a tissue, or the inside of your elbow, to sneeze or cough into.
  • Do not touch your face.
  • Disinfect frequently used items and surfaces as much as possible.
  • Stay home if you feel sick and follow the advice of your health care provider.
  • Isolation and quarantine for new infections or for high-risk exposure.

The document states that 1/3 of American deaths from coronavirus has to date occurred in nursing homes and other long-term facilities.

The coronavirus death rate among young, healthy Americans is currently similar to the most recent death rates resulting from influenza.

Asymptomatic infections have been common, especially in young, healthy Americans.

Drinking Water, Helmet Use
The use of shared water bottles by athletes should never be allowed.

Each player should bring his own bottle of water to practices and games. Or the school should supply sealed bottles of water for use.

In October of 2005, Austin Phillips of Tyler Junior College (Tex.) died suddenly of bacterial meningitis.

Phillips pitched two innings for Tyler J.C. on a Thursday evening but didn’t feel well.

He felt he was coming down with the flu. Phillips went to his girlfriend’s home the day after he pitched and felt worse. Then a short time later, he went in and out of consciousness as an ambulance was called.

A few hours later, Phillips went into a coma at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. Three days later, the once vibrant and athletic baseball player passed away due to this killer disease.

It was determined that 48 people came into contact with Phillips. The health department in Tyler, Tex. ordered each of these individuals to take antibiotics as a precautionary measure.

Can you imagine the potential for disaster if several kids drank from the same water bottle Phillips used?

He isn’t the only baseball player to die of meningitis.

RHP Addie Joss of the Cleveland Bronchos died of tubercular meningitis in April 1911 at the age of 28. He collapsed on the field during spring training and died a few days later.

He had won 160 Major League games which included four 20-win seasons.

Helmets are another area of concern.

When only a few helmets are shared through a team, it is unsanitary and unsafe.

When each player dons a helmet, he adds sweat, body fluids and skin flakes in the helmet and deposits some of the parts onto his own head.

Then coaches usually dump the helmets into a duffel bag and stow the gear away in a hot, closed trunk. It’s a veritable breeding ground for mold spores which at times can be dangerous.

Plus, head lice can travel from player to player quickly if such practices are allowed. Well informed coaches never allow this to happen as each player has his own helmet.

To top it off, players end up wearing helmets that may not fit properly or are so damaged that they provide little protection.

If schools can’t afford individual helmets, it makes sense for players to purchase their own which they can use in practice and games with the same school color and decals added.

Coronavirus Issues
There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus.

However, there are 149 vaccines in development. So the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed.

The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Steps to protect yourself from the coronavirus include:

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place or after blowing your nose, cough or sneeze.

If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 75 percent alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.

It is important to only use hand sanitizers that utilize at least 75 percent isopropyl alcohol or 75 percent ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol).

Do not us any hand sanitizer that contains methanol (wood alcohol). The Food and Drug Administration has advised consumers not to use more than 100 hand sanitizers manufactured by Mexican companies due to the presence of methanol. The FDA discovered that several companies had illegally labeled their product to contain ethanol but tested positive for methanol contamination. Not only read the label of any hand sanitizer you purchase, but check the Food and Drug Administration FDA Recalled Hand Sanitzer List to see if the hand sanitizer has been banned. 

Consumers are also urged not to use hand sanitizers that are subpotent, meaning they have less than the required amount of ethyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol or benzalkonium chloride. The above link in red includes these recalled products among list of 115 banned hand sanitizers.

Consumers who have been exposed to hand sanitizer containing methanol should seek immediate medical treatment, which is critical for potential reversal of toxic effects of methanol poisoning.

Substantial methanol exposure can result in nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system or death.

To help with the prevention of coronavirus, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention recommends:

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay at home if you are sick except to receive medical care.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
  • Throw used tissues in the trash.
  • Wear a face mask if you are sick and will be around other people.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. The most common EPA-registered household disinfectants will work. Use disinfectants appropriate for the surface.

Options include diluting household bleach (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water.

New World Baseball Rules
The World Baseball Softball Confederation published a set of health and operational recommendations for the safe return of baseball and softball activity.

Recommendations to mitigate the risk of coronavirus infections include:

  • Avoid sharing of competition equipment. Each player should have his own bat, helmet, glove, batting gloves, rosin bags, etc.
  • Batters shall retrieve their own bat when possible.
  • No chewing tobacco, seeds or spitting at any time.
  • Players (in particular pitchers), shall not lick their fingers.
  • Umpires shall wear virus protection masks and gloves.
  • If possible, avoid line-up exchange at home plate.
  • Avoid physical contact, such as shaking hands, high fives, fist bumps, hugging, etc.
  • Ball prep (mud rubbing) to be done by one appointed person with protective rubber gloves.
  • Different set of official balls for home and visiting teams while on defense.
  • Coaches may approach umpire keeping a minimum distance of six feet.
  • Home plate umpire shall avoid coming in contact with catcher.
  • Minimum physical distance of six feet shall always be kept in dugout.
  • Bases shall be cleaned every half inning.
  • No bat boys/girls shall be allowed.

As Collegiate Baseball went to press, Major League Baseball was on the verge of playing games again.

Several of the new rules to protect players, without repeating others in this story, include:

  • Hitters who were at the plate and runners left on base will have to go back to the dugout to get their caps, gloves and sunglasses when an inning ends rather than have someone run them out to them.
  • Spitting is prohibited, including sunflower seed shells. Smokeless tobacco is prohibited. Chewing gum is allowed.
  • Pitchers licking their fingers is prohibited. Pitchers will be permitted to carry a “wet rag” in their pocket to moisten their fingers before pitches.
  • Fighting and instigating fights are strictly prohibited and will be handled with “severe discipline.”
  • Players may not make physical contact with any other players outside of making tags and other incidental contact that might normally occur in the course of a game.

This includes high fives, fist bumps and huge, which are prohibited.

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