Despite support from city officials, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the MLB, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Governor’s office has uninvited the Toronto Blue Jays.
Canada Won’t Allow Travel From the US
Canada maintains a closed border with the United States due to COVID-19 case numbers in the US. The order has been renewed and remains in place until at least July 21st (though an extension is likely.) The principal issue for sports teams in Canada is their membership in US professional sports leagues such as the NHL, NBA, and MLB.
Some of the issues have been overcome. For example, the NBA has held all of their games inside of what they are calling “the Bubble.” Held at Disney World, 22 NBA teams are contained in a Coronavirus-free sterilized environment and are playing all games in Orlando without the attendance of fans. Included in this group is, as you may have surmised, the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors were able to participate because they will not travel back into Canada until the games are complete.
The NHL is doing the same but in Canada, opting for a two-city “hub” model. Edmonton and Toronto will host an abbreviated season for 24 teams and are following the NBA’s bubble model.
Toronto Blue Jays Look For a US Home
The Toronto Blue Jays baseball team is wisely looking for a US home to play the shortened 2020 season. By basing the team in the States, the Blue Jays would be free to play home and away games without entering the US and returning to Canada satisfying both the Canadian government and the team.
Pittsburgh Pirates, the MLB, and city officials had come to an agreement to host the Jays, sharing PNC Park – one of the prettiest ballparks in the country – pending approval from state officials.
Dr. Levine, Secretary of Health for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Governor Tom Wolf denied the league’s request and overruled the wishes of city officials. Buffalo (home to the Blue Jays minor league team) and Baltimore are vying for the Jays, Florida (Toronto’s home for spring practice) has also been named as a potential site.
More Health Safety Theater
What makes this decision so terribly confounding, is the justification for denial:
“In recent weeks, we have seen a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in southwestern Pennsylvania,” Dr. Rachel Levine, the state’s secretary of health, said in a statement. “To add travelers to this region for any reason, including for professional sports events, risks residents, visitors and members of both teams. We know that this virus does not discriminate, and can even make professional athletes very sick. We are committed to protecting the health and well-being of all Pennsylvanians.”
I am sure the doctor is a fan of empirical evidence, so here are some stats and figures. More than 70% of all Pennsylvania Coronavirus deaths have occurred in nursing homes. However, fatality numbers have been adjusted down as some who had reported positive recovered but later died of other causes had been counted as COVID-19 deaths incorrectly. But nursing home residents won’t be attending baseball games, in fact, there are no fans planned for the stadiums at this time.
The Toronto Blue Jays organization would likely travel 60-100 players and team support staff. Visiting teams (which the state is allowing for the Phillies and Pirates) would add to those numbers but could be coordinated with the Pirates to overlap and reduce visitors to Pittsburgh. Dr. Levine is disallowing the Blue Jays to spend the summer and fall in Pittsburgh to keep these numbers down.
But what about other visitors to the city? Let’s assume that 2,000 team members and staff visit the staff during the season, how does that compare with other sources of incoming traffic? Pittsburgh International Airport is down 78% from June of 2019, yet still welcomed nearly 200,000 travelers in one month. I was one of them and I flew back from Florida but I was allowed in.
This excludes visitors by car, bus, train, and yes, boat.
Watching out for Pennsylvanians is both Dr. Levine and Governor Wolf’s job, but denying the Blue Jays the ability to make Pittsburgh their home this season is absurd. The leagues heavily test the members of their organization to avoid an outbreak like the one that halted the NBA season. If there were ever guests to welcome into the state, surely it would be those that have continually proven to be free of the virus, wouldn’t it?
The decision also has a tangible effect on the economy of the city as workers are struggling to find income. Hotels would benefit from 60-100 rooms occupied for the next few months as would the area restaurants that support the teams. Stadium workers would benefit from additional days at the ballpark. Tax revenue would come into the city as well.
If Dr. Levine and Gov Wolf really think that 60-100 (2,000 if visiting teams and staff are included – my estimate) then why do they allow 200,000/month through the Pittsburgh Airport (not to mention Philadelphia arrivals)? From July 7-24 there were 146 infections and one death linked to COVID-19. Since the onset of the virus in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh and surrounding areas) has had 7,161 infections, and 222 deaths. For a metropolitan area the size of Pittsburgh (about 2.4 million) one death in the last outbreak period should be a badge of honor, not reason to exclude the Blue Jays over travel concerns.
This is health safety theater through and through and should be an embarrassment to Dr. Levine, Gov. Wolf and the state of Pennsylvania, not to mention, a lost opportunity.
What do you think? Are the travel concerns real in this case, or is it theater? Should the Blue Jays be allowed to play in Pittsburgh or should they not play in the US at all?