Yankees third-base coach Phil Nevin, first-base coach Reggie Willits and a non-coach support staffer have tested positive with "breakthrough" cases of COVID-19, the club announced on Tuesday.
Pitching coach Matt Blake was also among the coaches and staffers who were absent from Tropicana Field for Tuesday’s 3-1 victory over the Rays. Nevin’s case was announced pregame; the other two diagnoses were confirmed by the game’s conclusion.
According to manager Aaron Boone, the club learned of Nevin’s positive test hours after Sunday’s 3-2 victory over the Nationals at Yankee Stadium, when the team was already en route to Tampa, Fla. Nevin is fully vaccinated and was placed under quarantine protocol while additional testing and contact tracing is performed.
“Playing through a pandemic, going back to last year, I guess nothing surprises you,” Boone said. “But it does catch you off guard a little bit when you get that news. It definitely hits you, especially as we move through these vaccination phases.”
"Breakthrough" cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control, are when a small percentage of people who are fully vaccinated still get COVID-19 if they are exposed to the virus that causes it.
Yankees players and coaches received the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine on April 7. The team passed the 85% vaccination threshold in late April, permitting the relaxing of protocols in the clubhouse, dugouts and other spaces. Boone said that he will return to wearing a mask in the dugout on Tuesday.
“Hopefully the fact that we’re vaccinated en masse is something that will blunt this,” Boone said, “and allow a number of us to not get anything, and keep symptoms at a minimum if anything does get through. Hopefully it turns out to be a case of encouraging people to still [receive vaccines].”
Boone said that some members of the traveling party were sent home. With Nevin quarantining, bench coach Carlos Mendoza took over as the third-base coach on Tuesday. Player development coordinator Mario Garza filled in for Willits as the first-base coach.
Yankees right-hander Gerrit Cole said that the team’s players held a meeting to discuss the situation. Cole opted to wear a mask for his Zoom appearance, which was held in a makeshift studio in the bowels of Tropicana Field, and said that he senses the roster is ready to play on Tuesday.
“I think as a whole, we're looking to press on,” Cole said. “There are different levels of comfortability across the club. We’re just trying to accommodate that and stick together as a group, making sure everybody is in a good spot to perform tonight. I think we felt confident as a group that we could do that.”
Cole said that he has been helping reliever Zack Britton, the team’s union representative, handle communications between players on the roster and the joint committee between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association.
“I don't think this is going to be over for a few years,” Cole said. “I think we're going to have to be dealing with this kind of thing for a while. Every time these things come up, we're going to have to adapt and learn as a species. We're going to take it one step at a time and do the best we can with it.”