Whitmer defends mask mandate for athletes; Dr. Khaldun says if you can't wear a mask, you shouldn't play

After Wednesday's clarification from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer about the requirement for athletes to wear masks while playing contact sports, Michigan leaders defended the mandate and say it's necessary to stop the spread and if it's not possible for some, maybe they should not play.

Whitmer issued the update Wednesday around 7 p.m., saying high school athletes to wear protective face masks while playing sports where they cannot be socially distanced to limit the coronavirus risk. That includes football, soccer, or volleyball. 

When asked during her Thursday morning press conference, Whitmer said she knows playing sports is an important part of American culture but we have to be safe about it.

"It's important that we can engage to make life feel a little more normal but we still have to be smart about it for our student-athletes, for their families, for our educators," she said. "Everyone has a duty to make sure we do our part to do this right"

Executive Order 2020-180 applies to contact sports and excludes sports like swimming, golf, tennis, or cross country. She said there are businesses that have created ways to make football possible.

"Companies have created masks specifically designed to help athletes stay safe while running, blocking, playing football, and other sports," she said. 

Whitmer did not expand which companies those were or if that equipment was available for student-athletes in Michigan for the fall.

She was asked about compliance and is calling on districts, leagues, and teams to make it happen.

"If people drop their guard and we don't have compliance and numbers spike, we're gonna have to take steps backward and I know none of us wants to, me especially," Whitmer said. "We're imploring districts, leagues, coaches, and families alike to do everything to keep the student-athletes safe and encourage behavior to do that."

The reasoning behind the decision was questioned, however.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says "children should not wear a mask when playing sports or doing physical activities, such as running, jumping or playing on the playground, so that it doesn’t compromise their breathing." The WHO did not specify what age that applies to.

The Cleveland Clinic says that while they should wear one during games, it may not always be possible while playing but they should still wear one when on the bench and waiting to play.

Dr. Khaldun didn't cite specific sources but said there is some data that masks increase respiratory rates.

"I can say I've looked at the WHO website, we understand that wearing a mask makes it less comfortable to participate in a sport. We can say there's some data, I will not say that it's proven, but there's some data which shows that the respiratory, the parameters if you will, the respiratory rate could potentially increase if you're wearing a maks while exercising but we do not have any proof that someone cannot exercise," she said.

The decision to play or not should be an easy one, she said: if you can't wear the mask, you should not play.

"If they can't, quite frankly, then maybe they won't be able to participate at this time," she said. "For contact sports, it is recommended, given where we are with COVID-19 cases across the state, it is recommended to wear a mask and if someone is unable to, they may not be able to participate at this time."