MLS defends decision to play despite positive test

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MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott said that the decision to play last Thursday’s match between the Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew SC, despite a Fire player’s preliminary positive test for COVID-19, was in line with the league’s protocol.

The player in question wasn’t part of Chicago’s traveling delegation that went to Columbus for the match, one in which the Crew prevailed 3-0. Following the initial test, the player was put in isolation and on Friday the club confirmed that he had recorded a second positive test.

“Under the league protocols that were put in place prior to the MLS is Back Tournament — protocols that were developed in consultation with our infectious disease (ID) specialists, the union’s ID specialists, and public health authorities — the protocol provides that in the case of a player that tests positive, that player is isolated and provided care,” Abbott told ESPN.

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“Those players that test negative are permitted to continue with activity. And it was pursuant to that protocol that the game in Columbus versus Chicago’s was played.”

Based on various reports, approximately 35 MLS players have now had confirmed positive tests for COVID-19. According to roster data from the league’s web site, there are 678 active players in the league, meaning 5.2 percent of the entire MLS player pool has tested positive. Included in that number of positive tests are players who have recovered and returned to play.

The positive test for the Chicago player was the first that was publicly confirmed since the conclusion of the MLS is Back Tournament on Aug. 11. Prior to that tournament, both FC Dallas and Nashville SC were forced to withdraw after each team sustained clusters of positive tests.

A source with knowledge of the situation said there is “no bright line number” of confirmed positive tests by which MLS would decide to postpone a match, preferring instead to operate on a case-by-case basis.

“There’s lots of different types of results that come back, so you have to analyze it,” the source told ESPN. “But yes, if at some point there were multiple positive tests, [MLS] would look to postpone a match.”

At present, Chicago’s home opener on Tuesday against FC Cincinnati is still scheduled to go ahead, with Fire players now being tested every day.

“The idea is that if you test negative, the chances that you are infectious in that 24 hour period are miniscule, just given the incubation period,” the source said. “So it’s not just a protocol, it means there’s actually science behind it. It doesn’t mean something else could happen. But that’s the whole idea is that a negative test indicates that for that period of time, you’re not infectious. And I think that’s why sports leagues have felt comfortable moving forward on that basis.”