NEW YORK – Major League Baseball is telling teams to take precautions when they play in Toronto, where 16 people have died from severe acute respiratory syndrome.
The Blue Jays open a nine-game homestand Friday, beginning with the Kansas City Royals, and there are no plans to postpone the games. Players are being told to avoid crowds and contact with fans.
Toronto pitcher Tanyon Sturtze said routine activities such as signing autographs are troubling.
"That's kind of putting us in harm's way," he said. "I think right now we have to back off a little bit and make sure everybody stays safe until they find out what's going on."
Dr. Elliot Pellman, major league baseball's medical adviser, will talk with the head trainers of each of the 10 teams scheduled to visit Toronto through the All-Star break in mid-July.
He said players needed to become better informed on the disease. Canada has been the most SARS-affected area outside Asia, and 140 cases have been reported in Toronto.
"The fact is SARS is there," Pellman said. "The other fact is there are 11 million people in Ontario, 2 million in the greater Toronto area. Take those figures and it's not an epidemic or the black plague. With proper precaution there is very little risk. Is there some risk? Yes."
Pellman said sports arenas have been packed during the history of the disease, and no cases have resulted. But caution is needed, he said.
With that in mind, the teams will be told to avoid crowds, hospitals and public transportation. And if they want to sign autographs, Pellman said, they ought to use their own pens.
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization advised travelers to avoid Toronto, as well as other sites in China, because of SARS. WHO said the travel warning will be active for at least three weeks -- double the maximum incubation period for SARS.
Representatives of baseball's players' union planned to meet with medical consultants at the commissioner's office Friday to discuss SARS.
"I think we're on the same page," said Gene Orza, the union's No. 2 official. "The important thing is to make sure the players have a good feel for what's going on."