By Annah Johnson
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced today that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has determined that all sports are able to continue with proper mask-wearing beginning on Feb. 8.
Because of the increased administration of the COVID-19 vaccine and positive reports on the metrics the state has been following to determine the level of emergency, the DHHS sees allowing athletes to participate in their team sports as safe.
“Today, DHHS is issuing an epidemic order to allow in-person practice and competitions for sports leagues starting on Monday, Feb. 8,” Whitmer said. “I know these last months have been tough on all of us and I know they’ve been really hard on student-athletes who have been missing a sense of connection and belonging as well as many other attributes that playing sports provides. I appreciate the passion of our young athletes and the desire that they share to get back in the game that they love.”
Whitmer shared her devotion to ensuring that students are being cared for during the pandemic and restated her goal for the state to offer in-person learning opportunities for every student by March 1.
The order states that participants must be masked at all times, but when it is not safe or possible for a participant to wear a mask, such as swimming competitions, they must follow specified protocols, before they can be involved in the practice or competition. There will be a guidance directory made available by the MDHHS on Feb. 7 that will detail the protocols. Attendance will be limited to two spectators per athlete.
“Thousands of Michiganders still need support, that’s why it’s so crucial that the legislature join forces with me to pass the Michigan COVID Recovery Plan,” Whitmer said. “The plan will ramp up vaccine distribution, support small businesses and get our students and educators back on track.”
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Chief Medical Executive and Chief Deputy Director for Health for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported as of Feb.3, the state is currently totaled at 563,893 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 14,704 related deaths. Active cases are at 159 per million while showing a steady decline for the past 24 days. Test positivity rate is at 4.9%, at its lowest since mid-October. The rate of in-patient beds being used for COVID-19 patients is 6.6%.
“Because we continue to see our metrics trending in the right direction, we can move forward with allowing contact sports practices and competitions with specific public health measures in place, like masks and testing.”
Khaldun explained that she is a former athlete and sports are important to her family to express sympathy with those who feel that sports play a major role in many student’s lives. However, she further explained that it is not only important but critical, for students to return to in-person learning as soon as it is safely possible.
While it is exciting that contact sports will be allowed to continue, Khaldun stressed the importance of staying vigilant and following health guidelines while many remain unvaccinated and more contagious variants pose a threat for more outbreaks.
A pediatrician from the Integrated Healthcare Associates of Ann Arbor Dr. Omkar Karthikeyan spoke on the importance of returning to in-person learning on development. He explained that many studies have shown that children are less susceptible to contracting, and seem less likely to spread the virus. When schools opened back up with safety precautions including masks and physical distancing, there did not appear to be any correlational evidence that would indicate schools were hotbeds for transmission of the virus.
“Symptoms of anxiety and depression are on the rise, as are pediatric ER visits for mental health emergencies,” Karthikeyan said. “Child abuse rates are up. Childhood obesity – long known to be an epidemic particularly here in Michigan – is on the rise as children are spending less time moving their bodies and more time in front of a screen.”
Educational shortcomings and learning loss is a leading issue in education across the country. The path to reopening schools will be based on other districts that have successfully reopened and the available science.
The reopening of schools and reinstatement of sports come with strong limitations, but many are convinced that reopening will benefit the mental health of students in Michigan.
“We all have a responsibility to ensure we keep one another safe and do our part to slow down the spread of COVID-19,” said Legend Junior, a senior basketball player at River Rouge High School. “One of the greatest lessons of basketball is teamwork and it will take everyone to defeat this virus. This is why I am committed to staying safe while still playing the sport that I love.”