Covid-19: Uncertainty weighs on everyone waiting to see how penetrable is MLS bubble

The terrifying aspect of the coronavirus is its uncertainty, wrecking plans for individuals and businesses to move forward with their lives and plans with any assurance.

Datebook: MLS is Back Tournament schedule

That uncertainty weighs over the MLS is Back Tournament and those teams already in the bubble at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort and other teams still at home awaiting their departures.

How many more players in the bubble will test positive for Covid-19? How many is too many before a team pulls out or worse, the five-week tournament is scrapped? Based on testing results released late on Thursday, MLS isn't close to being there yet, but there are a lot of nervous players and coaches and team and league officials less than a week out from the tournament's start.

The uncertainty boils down to one issue:

For however much testing MLS is doing and however rapidly it is getting the results, the protocol isn't foolproof.

A player can test negative for Covid-19 before his departure to Orlando and be cleared to head off to the MLS bubble, and the player can enter the quarantine after his arrival at the Swan and Dolphin (12 hours) and test negative again and be cleared to join his teammates at practice, but that doesn't mean he doesn't later test positive (or inconclusive) and have the Covid-19 virus and start infecting others because the average incubation period is usually 5-7 days.

(Travelers between countries and now between states are typically being placed in 14-day quarantines and even then there have been a few positive cases over an incubation period of more than 14 days.)

Latest test results. The focus was initially on Disney or Marriott staff workers bringing Covid-19 into the Swan and Dolphin bubble from the Orlando area, where cases have spiked in recent weeks, but it has quickly evolved to teams bringing it with them from their home markets as Covid-19 outbreaks are spreading rapidly across the country.



On Wednesday, MLS released a statement that six FC Dallas players had tested positive after their arrival but they were the only positive tests through Tuesday among the 392 people in the Swan and Dolphin bubble tested as of Tuesday.

Late on Thursday, MLS released an updated report of the results of testing done on Wednesday and Thursday: Six individuals tested positive for Covid-19 -- four of them players -- from among 855 players, coaches, referees, club staff, league staff and other individuals who are part of the MLS delegation in the resort bubble.

The Dallas website 3rd Degree reported that three of the four players and one of the other two individuals -- a coach -- were from FC Dallas, as it and others reported on Wednesday. (What is not clear is whether there were FC Dallas players or staff whose tests initially came back positive but were negative or inconclusive on Wednesday or Thursday.)

Speaking on his Dallas radio show on Thursday afternoon, FC Dallas head coach Luchi Gonzalez said his players' safety and well being were his priority, and he didn't know if his team's schedule at the MLS is Back Tournament would go ahead as planned or be changed or if FC Dallas would pull out of the tournament. (He repeated his priority was to get his players recovered with their health and back with their families eventually.)

Alternate date. The tournament is scheduled to start on Wednesday, and the first FC Dallas game is against Vancouver the next day. FC Dallas and the Whitecaps both also play on July 15 and July 20. On most days of group play, three games are scheduled, but the FC Dallas-Vancouver match could be moved to July 23 -- the last day of group play, when the 9 a.m. time slot, the third slot, is free -- and give FC Dallas an extra six days to prepare.)

That leaves Vancouver, which was scheduled to fly to Orlando on Wednesday, in a holding pattern. Its departure has been delayed because it was awaiting the results of two inconclusive results -- they were negative -- and subsequent testing.

Vancouver sporting director and CEO Axel Schuster told the Vancouver Province that he didn't know if the Whitecaps would play next week but he was sure they would within the next two weeks.



The Whitecaps would be leaving the relative safety of home -- there were 24 new Covid-19 cases in British Columbia over the last two days -- for Florida, where a record 10,109 new infections were reported on Thursday.

“We’re really not going to Florida, in our minds," Schuster told the Province. "We’re going into a bubble, we are going into one resort that is closed. And we’re staying in this bubble on our floor. We are not going to the beaches. We are not going into bars. We are not going into a grocery store or whatever. We are going into one facility that is totally closed. And of course, we have to know how to behave in that bubble, but I still think that is a safe environment for us. I don’t see something coming that really leads to the cancellation of the whole tournament.”

View from Canada. Of the three Canadian teams, only the Montreal Impact has arrived at the Swan and Dolphin. Toronto FC is still in Ontario.

The situation at the Swan and Dolphin is concerning to TFC players because, as head coach Greg Vanney told the Canadian Press on Thursday, the "bubble is not impenetrable and there are some issues that are going on. The question is how quickly can the protocols that are in place down there get things under control so it doesn't start to spread inside of the bubble."

Vanney said he and his players are dismayed with what they see taking place in the United States.

"People are not taking things serious and it's completely, in a lot of ways, out of control. And with very little leadership going on down there, outside of the bubble that is whatever MLS is trying to create. The problem is the bubble is only as good as what gets into the bubble. And that's obviously becoming an issue, which is concerning for all of us. Our guys are very aware of it. Are they concerned? Yes. Are they right to be concerned? Yes, I guess."

5 comments about "Covid-19: Uncertainty weighs on everyone waiting to see how penetrable is MLS bubble".
  1. Mike Lynch, July 3, 2020 at 8:48 a.m.

    When the goal is zero risk, nothing is possible. When the goal is calculated risk, as we do everyday in everything else we encounter daily, forward movement is not only possible, it is prudently accepted by those involved. For example, the American College of Pediatrics declared last week that for children in this current COVID environment, the data suggests not resuming school is more risky than staying away. I'm not saying MLS is Back standards should held to the risk data known about COVID in children but there is growing scientific evidence suggesting that COVID-19 risk is significantly stratified by age over 50 and people with certain comorbidities, not the one size fits all health policy we are currently embracing. The Bundesliga showed it can be done. Discipline will be required buy all, but also will acceptable risk. 

  2. David Crowther replied, July 3, 2020 at 12:07 p.m.

    There is no comparison between the current situation in states like Florida and Texas with either Germany or BC, where the spread of COVID is largely under control.  Furthermore, the hospitals in Texas and Arizona are filling up with people under 50.  Being younger just means you are less likely to die, but its clear by now that this doesn't mean you can't get seriuosly ill with long term health implications.

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, July 5, 2020 at 4:27 a.m.

    Mike, you need to think about what "risk" is stratified by age and health. I haven't seen the material you reference, but I strongly suspect that the "risk" is risk of death. In a pandemic situation, organizations cannot look at risk from an individual's viewpoint. They have to look at risk to the community.

    For instance, the materials suggest that sending children to school is an acceptable risk, but that does not consider the impact on the community from infected children. Anyone who has been a parent understands how schools are a pathway for spread of infectious disease throughout the community. Typically one child brings the disease home, where it spreads to others in the household. The parents spread the disease at their places of work. With coronavirus 19, there is a week's window before symptom's appear when the disease may be unwittingly spread. (Then there are adults who take over the counter medications to supress symptoms and then go to work.)

  4. R2 Dad, July 3, 2020 at 1:18 p.m.

    The BL proved it can be done, but can MLS manage German levels of strict hygiene? So far it doesn't appear so. 

  5. R M, July 4, 2020 at 10:59 a.m.

    The "Bubble" will not be perfect from the start. For any player or organization to have such an expectation is naive. There will be positive tests. The question are how will those positive tests be dealt with and can the number of cases be reduced as testing proceeds? The EPL results show only 18 positive tests out of 12,000 plus tests (not people, tests!) of players and staff over two months. The positive tests reduced over time. Hopefully MLS can achieve a similar outcome.

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