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Ken Hoffman cheers on the Houston Astros for a bold COVID play

Ken Hoffman cheers on the Houston Astros for a bold COVID play

Minute Maid Park Houston
Astros employees are now under strict orders. Photo courtesy of Major League Baseball

Last week the Houston Astros became the first MLB team to require that all full-time, non-player employees roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated against COVID-19. The zero-tolerance order applies to the Astros’ three minor league teams, too.

If an employee says no to being vaccinated, here’s a cardboard box, clean out your desk. In the doomful words of WWE boss Vince McMahon and the former leader of the free world: “you’re fired!”

Several months ago, the Astros became one of the first teams to reach the threshold of 85 percent of its players vaccinated. This allowed players greater freedom from MLB-imposed travel and social restrictions, like bans on going to restaurants and having to wear masks in dugouts.

Teams can’t force their players to get the jab because of an agreement with the players union.

The Astros organization cares about the health and safety of its employees and players. That’s commendable and good to know. But let’s see, who have the Astros left outside their protective shield against coronavirus?

Astros fans.

The team came so close to providing a safe environment for everybody in the ballpark but didn’t take the final giant leap of mandating that fans show proof of vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours the umpire yelling “playball!” 

It would have been the perfect time, when they announced the vaccination mandate for employees, to add “not only that …”

While the Astros protect their own, game after game fans fill Minute Maid Park and are forced to sit shoulder-to-shoulder, practically on top of each other, whooping and hollering — with nobody having their temperature taken, told to wear a mask, socially distanced or any recommended safety measure against catching COVID.

You may wind up sitting next to somebody who is clearly sick and doesn’t care, who’s sneezing and wheezing. If the game is sold out, your only option is to risk illness or leave. While some big-league teams provide vaccinated-only sections (the Astros do not), none requires fans to be vaccinated or show a negative test result.

Strict COVID rules for fans already have started in football. The New Orleans Saints, Las Vegas Raiders, LSU, and Tulane University will require fans to show vaccination cards or negative test results. Now that the FDA has fully approved the Pfizer vaccine, more football stadiums will climb aboard the vaccine train. More than 700 colleges now require students on campus to be vaccinated.

The Astros understand the importance of vaccinations, that’s why they’re requiring their employees to get the shot. That’s why they host vaccination events before games and give free tickets to people who get jabbed. COVID vaccines work. While vaccination may not keep you 100-percent safe from the virus, it almost guarantees to keep you out of the hospital and above ground.

Those who won’t get vaccinated shouldn’t argue that they’re against vaccines in general. If you grew up in Texas, almost assuredly you’ve been vaccinated against (deep breath): polio, measles, mumps and rubella, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Varicella and Meningococcal disease. The law provides exemptions for medical reasons (with a note from your doctor) or religious reasons. Just because you don’t like the opposing political party is not a good enough reason.

Do the Astros know that most Houstonians are now fully vaccinated? Vaccine refuseniks shut out of Minute Maid Park might be replaced – and then some – with fans who want to watch games in a protected environment.

Are the Astros aware that COVID cases and hospitalizations are surging in Houston and Texas? Last week, even with some school districts still on summer vacation, the number of Texas students testing positive for COVID passed the peak of 2020. According to the president of the Houston Medical Center, 18 percent of all new COVID cases are children.

Two weeks ago in Houston, Americana singer Jason Isbell raised a ruckus that shook the entertainment industry. One day before his scheduled concert at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, Isbell canceled the show when the venue was unable (says pavilion management) or wouldn’t (says Isbell) comply with his demand that every fan show proof of vaccination or recent negative test.

A few days later country singer Jason Aldean performed in front of a sold-out audience, unchecked for vaccination cards or negative test, at the same venue. At another concert, Aldean famously told the crowd, “The coolest thing to me right now is that I’m looking out, seeing all you guys, and I don’t see one f***ing mask. I’ve had just about enough of that s**t.” The crowd erupted with chants of “USA! USA!”

Not wearing a mask when you’re in a crowd doesn’t make you a patriot. It just makes you selfish, dangerous, and a potential hospital patient. It should be noted that fans who paid extra for a backstage meet-and-greet with mask rebel Aldean were required to wear a mask. He loves seeing people not wearing masks, from a distance.

Starting in October, Live Nation and AEG, the two biggest concert promoters in the world, will require proof of vaccination or 72-hour negative COVID test at its events.

Even before that, Harry Styles will perform September 13 at Toyota Center. To enter, fans must show that they’re fully vaccinated or produce a negative COVID-19 diagnostic test within 48 hours of the show. Fans must wear a mask covering their mouth and nose at all times inside the arena. These same rules will apply to staff, concession workers, security and ushers.

Large venues hosting sports and entertainment events have the ability to mandate COVID safety rules for fans. The U.S. Open tennis tournament underway in New York attracts hundreds of thousands of people. Each one will be checked for a vaccination card or negative test.

All it takes is desire and concern. The Astros, when they announced that their employees must be vaccinated for their own protection, should have shown the same concern for their fans.

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