Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer permits organized sports to resume with strict safety measures

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Thursday that organized sports can resume if strict safety measures are implemented. 

She says organized sports practices and competitions can resume in regions where they remain restricted, though the MDHHS guidance strongly recommends against contact sports resuming at this time. 

“Individuals can now choose whether or not to play organized sports, and if they do choose to play, this order requires strict safety measures to reduce risk,” said Chief Medical Executive and MDHHS Chief Deputy for Health Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. “However, we know of 30 reported outbreaks involving athletic teams and facilities in August. Based on current data, contact sports create a high risk of COVID-19 transmission and MDHHS strongly recommends against participating in them at this time. We are not out of the woods yet. COVID-19 is still a very real threat to our families.” 

Here are the safety guidelines outlined in Gov. Whitmer's executive order: 

  • Spectators for indoor organized sports are limited to the guests of the athletes with each athlete designating up to two guests
  • For outdoor sports competitions, the organizer of the competitions must either limit the audience to the guests of the participants with each athlete designating up to two guests, or limit total attendance to 100 people or fewer, including all participants like athletes, coaches, and staff

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) also released guidance on organized sports

The document recommends against contact sports at this time, defined to mean those sports involving more than occasional and fleeting contact, including football, basketball, and soccer. 

It also cites the elevated risk associated with activities that involve “shouting, singing, or breathing forcefully,” and notes there have been 30 reported outbreaks associated with athletic clubs, teams, or athletic facilities. 

MDHHS’ guidance recommends mitigation measures organized sports teams may take to reduce the spread of COVID-19 during training, practices, and competitions. These recommendations include frequent hand washing, not letting players share towels, clothing, or other items they use to wipe their faces or hands, ensuring proper cleaning and disinfection of objects and equipment, prioritizing outdoor practice, and more. 

“As we begin to start organized sports back up again, I urge school districts and athletic associations to do everything in their power to protect players, coaches, and staff. That means carefully following the guidelines released today by DHHS,” said Governor Whitmer. “Going forward, we will continue to work with health experts to assess the risk associated with business sectors that remain closed. 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 towards re-engagement."  

Also on Thursday, Gov. Whitmer announced gyms and pools can begin to reopen in Michigan on Wednesday, September 9. You can read more about that here

Many were anticipating these announcements to be made Wednesday when the governor called a news conference to discuss the state's continued response to COVID-19. A $5 billion commitment from Huntington Bank to help small businesses in the state was announced at the news conference. 

In a blistering message aimed at Gov. Whitmer and the Michigan High School Athletic Association, Dr. Nikolai Vitti, the leader of the Detroit Public Schools Community School District, said Wednesday that both have failed students athletes across the state.

"Does not appear that any announcements will be made. On the topic of fall sports, both @GovWhitmer and @MHSAA have failed student-athletes and families. Neither have led on the topic and it’s embarrassing. Both should be blamed, namely the @MHSAA for even cancelling football."

Dr. Vitti was responding to his own message from earlier in the day when he said he was hopeful for an announcement of a collaboration between Whitmer and the MHSAA "to allow student-athletes the rightful opportunity to play in all fall sports today or clearly own why this will not be the case and explain what needs to happen to play in the spring."

The MHSAA had announced in mid-August that high school football would be pushed back until the spring of 2021, while golf, tennis, and cross-country were allowed to resume as planned.