The numbers kept getting higher – a small, startling and almost frightening echo of the last year we’ve all had to endure.
First it was one COVID positive test for the Yankees – third-base coach Phil Nevin. Then, by Tuesday night, it was three. On Wednesday afternoon, it had more than doubled: Seven members of the Yankees – three coaches and four support staff, all of them members of the travel party – had tested positive for COVID-19, and Gleyber Torres was being held out of the starting lineup out of an "abundance of caution" as the team waited on further tests for him. The line graph kept creeping up, like all those line graphs we clung to last March, April, May, as this virus ravaged our city and the world.
Every single member who tested positive had been vaccinated, and it’s believed they all received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which has 63.3% efficacy against the virus and is 100% effective at preventing hospitalization and death, according to the American Medical Association. All but one was asymptomatic, according to manager Aaron Boone.
It’s normal to feel that cold chill of ‘oh no, not again.’ The Yankees certainly expressed it Wednesday. Boone seemed tired of it, as the team had long exceeded the 85% vaccination threshold needed to lift certain safety protocols. Jameson Taillon, whose brother is a critical care doctor in Fort Meyers, Florida, echoed the sentiment. And maybe all of us at home thought it, too: Will we ever be out of this? Will anything ever be OK?
The hardest part has been "making sense of it all and dealing with a lot of asymptomatic and pretty healthy people and trying to get our heads wrapped around it all," said Boone, who believes the vaccines mitigated the worst effects of the virus, and that advanced testing has made it easier to trace.
Added Taillon: "I thought we were out of the woods, but here we are."
Sports, as it often is, was a microcosm of life as we know it. And in its way, Wednesday’s pregame announcements continued to prove that it’s going to be a long, long time before everything is back to normal. But it also showed just why we might just eventually conquer this unimaginable beast.
For one thing, no one appears to be severely ill, and maybe for that, like Boone, we can thank a vaccine – the same one nearly 50% of New Yorkers have now received to completion, according to the governor’s office. For a virus that has killed more than 3.3 million people worldwide and has new variants that continue to threaten so many of us, infection without symptoms or danger of death is still something to be celebrated. There is no telling how much the Yankees could have been devastated by disease if they had had no level of protection against it.
For another, it showed their adaptability and ours – a willingness to find a problem, address it, and try like hell to eradicate it. The Yankees were all tested three times Wednesday to make sure there was no further exposure. They donned their masks. Some, like Taillon, avoided confined spaces. And all of them, to a man, showed a commitment to striving for some semblance of normalcy against the chaos.
"We’ve been dealing with this over a year with COVID and we’re just willing to roll with [it]," Tailllon said. "We try to protect each other and do our responsibility to keep everyone safe, but we’re here and we’re ready to play."
And there’s something to be said about the fact that even though three coaches came down with the virus – Nevin, pitching coach Matt Blake and first-base coach Reggie Willits – it’s believed no players have it. Torres was undergoing further testing, but his initial result is thought to be a false positive, as he was both vaccinated and had the virus before.
It’s definitely challenging – not only from a baseball perspective, but from a human perspective. Like the Yankees, we’re all tired of keeping our guard up. We’re tired of line graphs, and rapid tests, and face masks. But we’ve also learned a lot in this last year, and it’s here to serve us. It certainly helped this team deal with the sort of outbreak that could have potentially ended their season just nine months ago. Instead, they played Tampa on Wednesday.
"I think, in an ideal world, we’d be past this with the vaccines and the time removed from the threshold but, you know, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past year and a half, it’s that you have to be ready to roll with the punches," Taillon said. "Nothing’s guaranteed anymore, so we’ll mask back up, we’ll keep our distance, we’ll do whatever we have to do to get the season in. We were willing to make big adjustments last year. We’ll do whatever it takes now to keep this going."
The rest of us, too.