Michigan reverses course, will play high school sports this fall

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Thursday the lifting of restrictions that will allow athletic competitions to resume in regions of the state where they have been restricted. Her administration released guidance, however, recommending against — but not prohibiting — sports involving more than occasional and fleeting contact: football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, hockey, wrestling, field hockey, boxing and martial arts with opponents.

“Given the available epidemiological data and the timing as many schools and universities return to campus, contact sports pose a high risk of disease transmission to athletes, coaches and the general community, and should be avoided at this time,” the memo said.

Yet the Michigan High School Athletic Association, which had postponed football until the spring, quickly reinstated the fall season and said three other fall sports that were limbo in much of the state — soccer, volleyball, and swimming and diving — can start competition.

The governor urged school districts and athletic associations to follow the guidelines issued by the state health department, which reported 36 outbreaks related to sports teams, clubs, tournaments or gyms in August.

“Going forward, we will continue to work with health experts to assess the risk associated with business sectors that remain closed,” Whitmer said in a statement. Such operations include cinemas, performance venues, arcades, bingo halls, amusement and water parks, climbing facilities, dance areas and trampoline parks.

“For the health and safety of our families and frontline workers, it is crucial that we proceed thoughtfully and incrementally so we can measure the effects of today’s actions before we take additional steps toward reengagement,” the governor said.

Spectators will be limited at sporting events. Each athlete can designate up to two guests.

On Aug. 14, the MHSAA decided to push the prep high school football season to the spring. The MHSAA Representative Council voted Thursday to reinstate all sports, allowing the prep football season to start in two weeks, with other sports like volleyball, boys soccer and girls swimming and diving to starting next Wednesday.

The Michigan Fitness Club Association, which led a Capitol rally in July, said gyms “are part of the solution to the COVID-19 pandemic, not the problem” — noting that obesity is a factor in chronic health conditions that increase risks for people infected with the virus. Last week, football players and parents held a “let them play” rally at the Capitol.

“I will not apologize for pushing, advocating, and questioning previous decisions about how the status of fall sports was handled,” Detroit school district superintendent Nikolai Vitti tweeted. “It was always about the players and families,” he said, before thanking Whitmer and the MHSAA “for listening and making the right decision in the end.”

The governor’s extension of the emergency keeps intact various underlying orders limiting gathering sizes, requiring masks in enclosed public spaces and protecting the jobs of workers who are infected.

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