By Sam Bush

The Phillies may not be the best team in Major League Baseball.

At best, they’re in the middle of the pack, maybe higher.

But they have led the sport in one important category:

The Phils have been at the forefront of the COVID-19 issue, and their virus breakout yesterday in Clearwater has helped force MLB to shutter all complexes in Florida and Arisona.

The closures come while MLB owners and players try to negotiate a deal to begin the season, and raise the possibility the virus outbreak could scuttle all attempts at starting up this year.

The facilities will undergo a deep cleaning and disinfecting. No one will be permitted back inside without a negative test for the virus.

Soon after the Phillies became the first known team to be affected by the outbreak, Toronto shuttered its site in Dunedin, Florida, about five miles from the Phils camp in Clearwater. The Blue Jays said one player showed symptoms consistent with the virus.

Earlier this week, Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem wrote in a letter to players’ union chief negotiator Bruce Meyer that ”the proliferation of COVID-19 outbreaks around the country over the last week, and the fact that we already know of several 40-man roster players and staff who have tested positive, has increased the risks associated with commencing spring training in the next few weeks.”

Regarding the implications of the outbreak on the season, the Phillies said ”it is too early to know.”

The Phillies said three staff members at the camp also tested positive. The team didn’t identify any of those affected.

Florida has experienced rising incidents of new cases and rates of those testing positive for COVID-19. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases in Florida has increased by 1,422.7, or 144.4%.

Arizona also has had a recent spike in cases, hitting a record for new daily cases.

The Phillies said the first confirmed case occurred Tuesday. The club said eight staff members have tested negative for the virus, while 12 staff members and 20 players – both major leaguers and minor leaguers – living in the Clearwater area are being tested.

The Phillies closed their facility in March when the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports. Players returning from injuries were allowed to continue their rehab after the facility was cleaned thoroughly. A few of the team’s athletic trainers and staff remained to supervise and safety precautions were taken.

Several more players began working out at the facility over the past few weeks but group sizes were limited.

In a statement, managing partner John Middleton said, ”The Phillies are committed to the health and welfare of our players, coaches and staff as our highest priority.”

”As a result of these confirmed tests, all facilities in Clearwater have been closed indefinitely to all players, coaches and staff and will remain closed until medical authorities are confident that the virus is under control and our facilities are disinfected,” he said.

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