In March 2020, sports — like the rest of the world — was put on pause as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on.
In South Florida, the Miami Heat, Miami Marlins, Florida Panthers and Inter Miami saw disruptions to their seasons. The Heat later provided the best season among those teams by reaching the NBA Finals at the Disney Bubble.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave emergency authorized use for vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna in December. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine followed in February.
The FDA asked for a halt on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week after “at least six cases of severe and very uncommon blood clots in women ages 18 to 48,” from doses “delivered to more than 6.8 million Americans,” was reported, according to USA Today.
So where does that leave South Florida sports franchises, from the front office and staff to the players?
Here’s a look at how the policies or plan South Florida teams stand with the COVID-19 vaccines:
The NFL released a memo Tuesday that said all coaches and other team employees that come into contact with players must get vaccinated, unless there is a “bona fide medical or religious ground for not doing so,” the Herald reported.
Players, however, are not subjected to the new league-wide policy at this time.
That new policy does not mean the NFL is threatening to fire those who refuse vaccination, but coaches and staff without approved waivers won’t have access to players, which is a critical aspect to many of their jobs, the Herald reported this week.
“The league said it anticipates lifting restrictions on locker room and cafeteria capacity for vaccinated individuals this season,” the Herald reported. “The NFL is also instructing teams to report back each week on the number of employees who have been vaccinated, and plans to ease protocols relating to testing, mask-wearing distancing and travel when vaccination thresholds are met.”
The NFL’s policy implicitly rejects most arguments against immunization, stating: “the overwhelming consensus among medical and public health experts is the most effective way for someone to avoid the risk of contracting COVID-19 — and the risk of infecting others — is to be vaccinated,” the Herald reported this week.
The NFL has the legal basis for such a policy. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in late 2020 that companies have the right to mandate that their employees get vaccinated.
As for fans attending games in the fall, Hard Rock Stadium will see a touchless security scan at all gates, touchless restrooms, no cash accepted and a minimum congregation in concourse areas. There will be increased sanitization of all surfaces as well as hand sanitizing stations on the concourse and capacity restrictions in certain areas such as the team store, according to the hardrockstadium.com.
Face masks are required for all fans and employees, and fans will sit in seats socially distanced at least six feet apart. Fans must also agree to not attend a game if meeting the following conditions: in the last 14 days, they tested positive for COVID-19, come in contact with someone testing positive for COVID-19 or have traveled from anywhere subjected to quarantine advisories due to COVID-19; in the last 48 hours, they’ve experienced COVID-19 symptoms.
Tailgating is also prohibited at the stadium.
The NBA’s plan is to relax some of its health and safety protocols for those who are fully vaccinated, including fewer mandatory COVID-19 tests, no quarantine requirements following contact tracing issues and the freedom to eat at restaurants again, the Herald reported in late March.
In late March, the Miami Heat confirmed to the Herald that some players and other members of the organization received a COVID-19 vaccine in consultation with their physicians.
On April 1, the Heat became the first NBA team to offer vaccinated-only sections for their fans, who needed proof with a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued COVID-19 vaccination card to show they were fully vaccinated to sit in more close-knit seated areas.
However, the Heat dumped the vaccinated-only sections as well as COVID-19 sniffing dogs just this week.
But “the rest of the COVID-19 health and safety guidelines remain in place for games at AmericanAirlines Arena,” the Herald reported this week. “That includes a strict masking policy, physical distancing, no food and beverages in the arena bowl, designated eating areas, and hand sanitizing stations.”
“The number of fans allowed to attend Heat games at AmericanAirlines Arena will remain around 4,000 for now.”
MLB released a memo to teams in late March that explained their COVID-19 safety protocols and restrictions would be loosened if 85 percent or more of their Tier 1 and Tier 2 members (players, coaches, front office, public relations staff) get vaccinated.
Marlins manager Don Mattingly has already been vaccinated.
“All of our coaching staff has been vaccinated,” Mattingly said April 1. “I actually got vaccinated this morning [April 1]. Some guys got vaccinated yesterday, maybe the day before on the off day. Our players haven’t been eligible here until the fifth [April 5] here. Maybe one guy was eligible early because his wife was in health care, so it was like a one-plus situation, For the most part, our guys will start that process on the fifth. They’ll be able to start and we’ll kind of put a little bit of a plan together to come out, so you’re not getting everybody [vaccinated] on the same day in case we have any kind of problems with, you know, just getting any kind of symptoms.”
A total of 18 players tested positive for COVID-19 after the first weekend of the 2020 season and had to spend a week in quarantine.
The Nationals-Mets game on Opening Day was postponed due to COVID-19, which alongside their own positive cases at the start of last season, provides caution for the Marlins.
“It is something we still have to watch,” Mattingly told the Herald on April 1. “Obviously things are better in country and things like that. I think we’re all gonna feel a lot better once we’ve had multiple shots and both rounds of that. You feel more comfortable. So for the team, it’s really dangerous — and I shouldn’t say dangerous. I mean obviously dangerous but for your club losing multiple guys at one time. That’s really what can set you back to start your season. It messes with the roster and all kinds of things that you do. It is a little tricky area right now that we’re in. Everybody leaving their kids and their bubble, getting out, more travel, more access to other things. So it’s a time that you still have to be vigilant.”
On April 5, Marlins players began getting their first vaccine doses.
In March, it was reported the Marlins planned to use a “drone disinfectant program to clean Marlins Park” this season.
Fans attending home games, which the Marlins announced in February will have a 25 percent capacity, this season can find a full list of COVID-19 safety and health protocols on the Marlins’ website.
The University of Miami football team is following the state of Florida vaccine policy, which is open to any Florida resident age 18 or older for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. Those 16 and 17 years old can get the Pfizer vaccine if accompanied by a guardian and complete the COVID-19 vaccine screening and consent form.
“We’re following university policy. Our policy would be the university and, to be honest with you, the university policy is set by the state’s policy because it’s the state that’s got the vaccines,” Hurricanes head football coach Manny Diaz said in late March. “States are doling out the vaccines and the way that they’re being released to the general public, we can’t jump it. In essence, our policy is the state of Florida policy, right, wrong or indifferent. What we’re hoping is that as that age limit continues dropping down that we’ll be able to get more and more people vaccinated, and get past this.”
The Herald reported April 5 that Inter Miami was among the first American professional sports teams to get its players vaccinated, receiving their first dose at the Inter Miami CF Stadium vaccination site in Fort Lauderdale.
“I think it’s amazing the club provided this opportunity for us,” midfielder Victor Ulloa told the Herald in early April. “We know how important it is to get vaccinated.”
Kelvin Leerdam, a right back who recently joined Inter Miami from the Seattle Sounders, added: “If you see the way we’ve been living the past year, it’s not easy. I’m just trying to do my part to get back to normal life.”
The vaccination site at Inter Miami CF Stadium has been operated by Broward Health since January 12, with up to 1,500 preregistered patients receiving their shots per day, the Herald reported April 5.
Herald reporters Adam H. Beasley, Anthony Chiang, Jordan McPherson, David Wilson and Michelle Kaufman contributed to this report.