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The Yankees’ COVID Outbreak Is a Nothingburger

New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (99) and other players run in from the outfield during the sixth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium, June 25, 2019. (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)

There was a panicky reaction when we learned last week that a bunch of personnel from the New York Yankees, including all-star shortstop Gleyber Torres, had tested positive for COVID-19. Today, that number is up to nine. The two takeaways hysterics turned to were 1) This proves that the coronavirus is still going strong and 2) this proves that vaccines aren’t our salvation. Nearly everybody in the Yankees clubhouse got the J&J vaccine some time ago.

Both of these fears are completely unfounded. What Americans who don’t follow sports closely don’t understand is that people in pro athletics are being obsessively tested and re-tested for COVID. Tom Brady was tested at least 200 times; LeBron James is around 300. The Yankees’ core group of about 50 to 60 people is being tested three times a day. Moreover, these folks (including non-athletes such as staff and coaches) are being tested to a hair-trigger standard.

What happens when you obsessively test people? You come up with a lot of positives that you would never otherwise have discovered, because while these people do have COVID, they’re not actually sick. They have no symptoms whatsoever. The Yankees who tested positive would in most cases never have found out they were infected if they weren’t members of the American aristocracy of pro athletes.

Moreover, while the vaccines make it highly unlikely that you’ll become infected, a misunderstood quality they also have is that even if you do suffer a “breakthrough” infection after being vaccinated, you almost certainly won’t get particularly ill. It’s possible that their vaccine doses got spoiled before they were taken, but what has happened is perfectly consistent with their having been vaccinated. One person, a coach, got mildly sick, then quickly recovered. And he was the hardest-hit person on the team. As the medical writer Zeynep Tufekci puts it:

They are all positive because of a common source, likely a highly infectious individual. These people all got a bit of the virus, and the virus was able to replicate just enough to be picked up by PCR tests that are very sensitive and can pick up even very small amounts. They are testing people three times a day with PCR tests! They’ll pick up anything and everything, even the tiniest viral amount. The virus was obviously stopped in its tracks, so almost everyone is without symptoms. That sounds like a great outcome to me.

If you’ve been vaccinated with any of the three approved treatments, you’ll be fine. The Yankees outbreak is meaningless.

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