Gleyber Torres, the Yankees’ two-time All-Star shortstop, became the eighth person involved with the Yankees organization to test positive for the coronavirus this week, the team announced on Thursday. But what has caught the attention of many outside of the baseball world is that Torres, three coaches and four support staff members had all been fully vaccinated.
Torres played on Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Rays, but he was held out of Wednesday’s game as his virus test results were pending. Before Thursday’s game, the team announced that Torres had a confirmed positive test. As a result, Torres might be away from the Yankees for 10 days based on the health and safety protocols negotiated by Major League Baseball and the players’ union.
Here’s what is going on:
What do we know?
The Yankees’ outbreak began on Sunday, when the team, after spending over a week in New York hosting home games, flew to Florida to play the Tampa Bay Rays and learned that Phil Nevin, their third base coach, had tested positive for the virus.
The Yankees began extensive virus testing on Monday, a scheduled day off, and put people deemed to have had close contact with Nevin into isolation. To be safe, and in consultation with a joint committee of M.L.B. and players’ union experts, the team also isolated a few employees who fell into a gray area.
Nevin initially had some symptoms but was considered symptom-free by Thursday, General Manager Brian Cashman said.
After Tuesday’s game, the Yankees announced that the number of confirmed positive results had grown to three. The two new people: the first base coach, Reggie Willits, who was already in isolation, and an unidentified support staff member.
Before Wednesday’s game, Manager Aaron Boone said those with confirmed positive tests had grown to seven: three coaches — the pitching coach, Matt Blake; Willits; and Nevin — plus four unidentified support staff members. A day later, Torres joined their ranks.
All eight people were in isolation in the Tampa area, either at the team hotel or in their own homes. The Yankees’ spring training complex is there, so some players and staff members have off-season homes in the area.
Everyone in the Yankees’ traveling party of 50 to 60 people is being tested three times a day using polymerase chain reaction, saliva and rapid tests. Thursday was the first day of no new positive test results since the outbreak began, Cashman said. “Maybe it’s slowing down,” he said.
What is a breakthrough case?
The Yankees have called all eight instances “breakthrough positives.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a breakthrough case occurs when a fully vaccinated person contracts Covid-19. It said a small number of such cases would be expected despite the effectiveness of vaccines, because none of the vaccines are capable of preventing illness in 100 percent of cases.
“Even though a small percentage of fully vaccinated people will get sick, vaccination will protect most people from getting sick,” the C.D.C.’s website says. “There also is some evidence that vaccination may make illness less severe in people who get vaccinated but still get sick. Despite this, some fully vaccinated people will still be hospitalized and die.”
The C.D.C. said that as of April 26, of the more than 95 million people in the United States who had been fully vaccinated, it knew of 9,245 breakthrough infections. Of those, there were 835 hospitalizations and 132 deaths.
Beginning on Friday, though, the C.D.C. said it would change the way it reported breakthrough infections to only those who were hospitalized or died — the two most severe outcomes from contracting Covid-19. In other words, the Yankees’ cases wouldn’t fall under that category going forward.
How did this happen?
That was not immediately clear.
Even though several players across M.L.B. have been reluctant to be vaccinated, the Yankees had been enjoying relaxed health and safety protocols under rules negotiated by M.L.B. and the players’ union for reaching a threshold at which 85 percent of the team’s players and key personnel were fully vaccinated. In fact, Boone said on Thursday that the Yankees had very few people who weren’t vaccinated.
The rewards included, among other things, allowing the team to go without masks in the dugout and the bullpen, along with indoor dining and having visitors at the team hotel. The Yankees were growing more comfortable with this semblance of normal life but had reverted to stricter mask wearing and more distancing since the outbreak began.
When asked about a possible common thread among the positive cases, Cashman pointed to a long rain delay before a game at Yankee Stadium on Saturday and said that players had a much larger clubhouse space indoors to spread out in compared to what the coaches and the support staff had. A day later, the team flew to Tampa.
“I believe the variant that we’re dealing with has been pretty aggressive,” Cashman said, without identifying the variant.
(M.L.B., through its lab in Salt Lake City, has been sequencing all cases during the pandemic and had previously noticed the more contagious variant of the virus first identified in Britain that is now prevalent in the United States.)
Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the C.D.C.’s director, said on Thursday that the agency wanted to learn more about the Yankees’ outbreak. She pointed to the fact that six of the Yankees’ seven cases as of Wednesday were asymptomatic, suggesting that proved that the vaccine was indeed effective.
Cashman said M.L.B. was in touch with the C.D.C. and that the Yankees were working directly with the New York State Department of Health concerning their outbreak.
In a statement, the Department of Health said it had been in contact with M.L.B. and the Yankees to better understand the situation.
“While there have been anecdotal reports of New Yorkers who have had a positive Covid test 14 or more days after receiving their last vaccine dose,” the statement said, “D.O.H. is investigating those cases along with the ones linked to the Yankees further to determine if they meet the formal C.D.C. definition of vaccine breakthrough.”
Wait, they were all vaccinated?
Yes. All eight people received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Cashman and a team spokesman said.
Nevin, along with Boone, received their single-dose vaccinations during spring training in March. Last month, the Yankees, via the Montefiore Medical Center, offered the Johnson & Johnson vaccine en masse to their players, coaches and staff members at Yankee Stadium. So those were different batches of the vaccine, in two different states, at different times.
“The J.&J. was what was provided, and obviously no complaints from that,” said Cashman, who said he had received the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine because he was over 50.
In Torres’s case, not only was he fully vaccinated, according to the Yankees, but he had previously had Covid-19 in the off-season. Reinfection, the C.D.C. said, is rare.
Is the vaccine working?
Yes, Cashman said. Without virus testing, he said the team would perhaps never have known that seven of its asymptomatic employees had been infected.
“We are maybe a case study, to some degree, or curiosity for people who don’t know that despite being vaccinated you really are still potentially exposed,” he said. “We can educate people that your exposure is limited significantly, not to getting the virus but how the virus affects you.”
Further proof, he said: The only person who had symptoms, Nevin, no longer had them by Thursday.
“I take a lot of great comfort that that’s the purpose of the vaccine, to protect, and it appears to be doing that, despite still having the ability to spread,” he said, adding later, “It will save you and protect from a lot more than what you think.”