Following the revelation that multiple co-workers had tested positive for the coronavirus, Texas Rangers employees told ESPN on Friday night that they fear for their health and hope the organization will allow employees to work from home after feeling pressure to come into the office.
Amid the rash of new coronavirus cases in Texas, Rangers employees were told in an organization-wide email Thursday that "several members of our Texas Rangers family have tested positive for the Coronavirus (COVID-19)," according to a copy of the email obtained by ESPN.
The acknowledgment of positive tests came 10 days after the team entered a new phase of its reopening in which employees told ESPN that they were urged to work at Globe Life Field, the team's new $1.2 billion stadium. While there was never an explicit mandate, multiple employees told ESPN their managers said working from home was not an option. Exceptions were made for some employees.
"We are terrified for our safety," said one employee who works for the team and requested anonymity out of fear of repercussions by the organization. "Terrified to share COVID-19, unknowingly, with an older employee, a pregnant co-worker or anyone else who may have some sort of underlying condition. We all knew it would come to this. It was only a matter of time."
More than 100 people work in the Rangers' executive offices and more than 200 overall are at the stadium on a daily basis, according to sources. The Rangers will sanitize their offices over the weekend, offer coronavirus tests to employees Monday and Tuesday, and could reassess their work-from-home policy in the days thereafter. The team issued a statement Friday acknowledging the positive tests.
"Over the last 48 hours, the Texas Rangers have received notification that several of our employees have received a positive test for COVID-19. The Rangers immediately began the protocols that we have in place for positive COVID tests, and any employee who had direct contact with these individuals was sent home and will undergo COVID-19 testing," the statement said. "No individuals will be allowed back into the facility without receiving a negative COVID-19 test.
"The health and safety of our employees are a top priority, and the Rangers will continue to diligently enforce the pandemic protocols that are in place for front office employees at Globe Life Field. These include temperature checks upon entering the building, mandatory wearing of face coverings, and regular sanitation and cleaning of the Globe Life Field facilities."
While office attendance wasn't unambiguously compulsory, the reopening of the Rangers' offices has been accelerated compared with the approach taken by other teams around baseball amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to league sources. Some teams' offices remain closed. Others opened their doors to smaller groups of employees. Texas was the first state to announce plans to reopen after instituting coronavirus lockdowns, and in early May, some Rangers employees returned to the office.
Managers, Rangers employees said, allowed employees to coordinate with others sitting near them to take days off and allow for proper social distancing. Some employees did not wear masks inside, they said, which led to the initial fears among employees.
Those worsened as more returned to the offices, the employees said. The stadium in May started hosting high school graduations, and the volume of people in and out of the stadium increased. A June 12 Zoom call for employees to return en masse on June 15 concerned some, but with teams around baseball cutting jobs, nobody was willing to speak out, according to a Rangers employee.
"I realize -- we all realize -- how fortunate we are to have a job right now," the employee said. "We were not furloughed. We were not fired altogether like some staffers at other clubs. We're able to continue to keep our families fed."
But the positive tests made some more willing to speak out, as did a Zoom call Friday in which a doctor affiliated with the team suggested employees were likelier to be infected by the coronavirus at home than at work. While multiple employees on the call said they believed the doctor misspoke and intended to address the virus' ubiquity, the gaffe resonated inside of the Zoom call's chat room, where employees asked for evidence to back up his statement, according to copies of the chat log obtained by ESPN.
As recently as this week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said sports teams could allow attendance of up to 50% capacity for games, which would be more than 20,000 people at Globe Life Field. With Major League Baseball intending to start training camps next week and games July 23, one employee in the Zoom chat wondered how the notion of fans at the stadium squared with protecting employees.
"With cases on the rise how are we planning to have fans here, keeping in mind that we need to keep our staff and players safe and healthy?" the employee asked. "What procedures will be in place if fans are allowed in here?"