Hoyer disappointed with Cubs' COVID-19 vaccination rate

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CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago Cubs executive Jed Hoyer is disappointed with the team's COVID-19 vaccination rate, and he isn't sure if it will ever reach Major League Baseball's threshold for relaxing some of its coronavirus protocols.

Despite the team's vaccination advocacy and education program, the Cubs remain shy of 85% for their Tier 1 players and staff.

“I think we're at a place right now, candidly, where I'm not going to give up hope that we can get there, but my level of optimism is waning, candidly,” said Hoyer, who was promoted to president of baseball operations in November.

“And it is disappointing because there are conveniences that come with getting to 85% as a group, just mask wearing and dining and things like that that we would all like to have, but I also feel there's a real competitive advantage that we're going to miss."

Reaching the 85% threshold means fully vaccinated players can go without masks in the dugout and bullpens. Fully vaccinated players and staff are able to eat and drink on flights. They also can gather in indoor spaces such as hotels without masks or social distancing as long as non-vaccinated people aren’t present.

Electronic tracing devices are eliminated, and fully vaccinated people who have close contact with someone with COVID-19 do not have to quarantine unless they exhibit symptoms.

“The contact tracing thing is a big deal,” Hoyer said before Thursday's game against Washington, “and I feel like when you have a positive case, but the people around you have been vaccinated, that takes away that contact tracing element to guys being out. And by not hitting the 85% we're missing that.”

MLB’s Tier 1 restrictions in place since last summer cover players, managers, coaches, bullpen catchers, team physicians, athletic trainers, physical therapists, and strength and conditioning coaches.

The Cubs had two coaches test positive for COVID-19 back in April, playing a role in a flurry of moves for the team.

Asked last week about the team being under the 85% threshold, pitcher Jake Arrieta disputed the idea that it was a competitive disadvantage.

“I don’t necessarily see that as a competitive advantage or a disadvantage,” Arrieta said. “I know we do have a lot of guys vaccinated. We have not had any cases in the past month, so we’re doing OK as a group. And we’re being careful about where we go and who we’re around.”

Hoyer declined to speak to any internal conversations among the players about reaching the 85% number. But he was clear on whether he felt the relaxation of MLB protocols was a competitive advantage.

“There's no denying the fact that ... it is a competitive advantage to get to 85%,” Hoyer said.

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Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap

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Jay Cohen, The Associated Press