New MLB protocols include relaxed COVID-19 restrictions for vaccinated players, staff

Major League Baseball issued a memo to teams on Monday outlining relaxed protocols for vaccinated players, coaches and staff members, creating a path for them to gather indoors, eat at restaurants, bring family members with them on the road and mostly restore their normal lives after nearly a full year of stringent health and safety policies.

The internal memo, obtained by ESPN, "strongly encouraged" players and staff members to receive one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines. The new protocols would apply to fully vaccinated Tier 1 individuals or teams where 85% of those Tier 1 individuals are fully vaccinated -- a threshold met two weeks after the second dose of Pfizer or Moderna and two weeks after the first dose of Johnson & Johnson, a single-dose vaccine.

Individuals who meet that requirement can gather without masks in hotel rooms, carpool together, play cards on airplanes, eat at restaurants, meet outdoors while on the road with anyone of their choosing and stay at personal residences when traveling, among other things.

Those individuals also will not have to wear masks when exercising and don't have to inform a compliance officer when leaving the team hotel. They will have the option of decreasing testing to twice weekly and will not have to quarantine if they have been in close contact with someone who was diagnosed with COVID-19, as long as they are asymptomatic.

Teams that get 85% of their Tier 1 individuals vaccinated no longer have to wear masks in the dugout and in the bullpen, will no longer have to utilize the Kinexon tracking devices and can restore clubhouse amenities, including pool tables, saunas, steam rooms and video game systems.

The relaxed protocols come as the rate of vaccinations continues to steadily rise in the United States. As of Monday, 28% of the U.S. population had received at least one dose of the three vaccines, according to data compiled by The New York Times. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the current seven-day moving average of new COVID-19 cases has decreased 77.2% compared with the highest peak on Jan. 11.

Managers have stated throughout spring training that they will encourage players to get vaccinated while also respecting the wishes of those who choose not to, prompting questions about whether there will be enough players in the latter group to prevent teams from reaching that 85% threshold.