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A two-game series scheduled for the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico is being moved to Marlins Park in Miami. Why? The dreaded Zika virus. Witness the ugly face of mass hysteria - and the lasting harm it will inflict on the already devastated island.
The union put a squeeze play on Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred to relocate the games, scheduled for the end of May, after several players expressed fears about getting and possibly transmitting the Zika virus.
It's true that Puerto Rico does have "localized," transmission of Zika, meaning that unlike the U.S. mainland it's not just getting cases from travelers but Zika is actually being spread on the island. But in the overall scheme of things and in health terms, the risk is basically goose eggs - baseball parlance for zero score.
Zika's primary threat is to pregnant women. In rare cases (apparently about one percent in the first trimester) it can cause a condition called microcephaly, in which the baby is born with an abnormally small head. Often this leads to developmental problems. But your intrepid reporter has confirmed there are no pregnant players, coaches, or managers on either team.
Zika's "threat" to men is in the form of Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disease.
Puerto Rico, population 3,678 million, at this writing has had 785 confirmed Zika cases with only seven (7) Guillain-Barré cases. That's about one Guillain-Barré case per half million people, or .00021 batting average - among those who live there; not who come to visit for two days. (Out of 472 Zika cases reported on the U.S. mainland, only one person has developed Guillain-Barré.)
Even among those who develop the illness, "Most individuals" according to the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, have good recovery from even the most severe cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, although some continue to have a certain degree of weakness."
The one Puerto Rico death attributed to Zika was apparently from immune thrombocytopenic purpura, which is similar to Guillain-Barré. One death out of 3,678 million people!
Now keep in mind that there's a magical potion that can reduce risk of all mosquito-borne diseases to zero. It's called "DEET." Rub it on and mosquitos will eschew you like Mexicans avoid Taco Bell. When in street clothes (as opposed to short sleeve uniforms) players can also wear long sleeve shirts and exchange those Bermuda shorts and sandals for pants and shoes.
For accommodations, players need do nothing more than stay in their usual five-star hotels with central air and screen doors, rather than the ramshackle hovels of the Puerto Ricans getting stung and infected. True, it's hard to reduce what's already essentially a zero risk, but this is an appeal to hysterical people who don't "do" risk particularly well. Thus a few years ago the hysteria was over mosquito-borne Chikangunya, which also kills virtually nobody and is now spread throughout the Caribbean. But that's yesterday's panic. Today nobody cares about Chikungunya, nor should they.
As for the players' fear of transmitting the virus once they get back home, remember those 472 U.S. cases? None of those people has transmitted the virus to anyone else.
Meanwhile notes The Associated Press, "The decision to shift the games from Puerto Rico is another blow to an island mired in recession. The U.S. territory has been suffering through more than a decade of economic decline since Congress phased out tax cuts that made the island a center for pharmaceutical and medical equipment manufacturing." Puerto Rico has just defaulted for the third time, missing nearly $370 million on a bond payment to avoid cutting essential public services such as schools and medical care.
Puerto Rico's important tourism industry is already being slammed because, of course, the island uses the dollar, as opposed to competing Caribbean and other Latin American tourist resorts whose currencies have recently fallen against the strong greenback. Now it will be slammed by this horrible decision of MLB. Tourists will instead go to islands and countries with equal or higher rates of Zika-related illness because they'll be have heard about the MLB decision.
Further, "It's ironic that athletes are willing to go to Brazil to the Olympics and don't want to come to Puerto Rico," Puerto Rico governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla recently told the local newspaper El Nuevo Dia. Brazil, of course, is at the center of the Zika outbreak.
"People were really looking forward to the series and to have the opportunity to attend Major League Baseball games in Puerto Rico," New York Yankees outfielder Carlos Beltran, a Puerto Rican native, told ESPN. "We all know that Puerto Rico is going through a very difficult time and this is basically just another low blow for the island."
It's hysteria, Beltran. Pure hysteria. Puerto Rico struck out before it even got in the batter's box.
Michael Fumento is an attorney and a Colorado-based freelance writer who lived for over four years in Latin America. He can be reached at email@example.com.