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Gov. Whitmer allows of reopening of gyms and pools next week; MHSAA to play football despite MDHHS recommendation against contact sports

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, September 3, 2020, 3:20 pm

As promised a day earlier, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the resumption of organized sports on Thursday, re-opening gyms and pools starting next week, but recommended against — not prohibited — the play of contact sports.

Without the restrictions of past orders in place, the MHSAA announced soon after that it was reversing course on its decision from 20 days earlier — one that postponed football to the spring — and reinstating it for this fall, with a shorter regular season.

Executive Order 176 allowed for the reopen of pools and gymnasiums on Wednesday, Sept. 9, allowing for indoor sports like volleyball and girls swimming to begin in Regions 1-5 and 7 — where indoor facilities had been closed — while EO 175 outlined strict workplace safety measures those facilities must put in place. 

“Throughout this pandemic, we have followed the best science and data available to make decisions that will keep Michiganders safe, and our hard work is playing off. Today we are announcing the reopening of gyms and pools with strict safety measures in place to protect patrons and their families,” Gov. Whitmer said in a news release. “I urge everyone who plans to hit the gym after these orders go into effect to take these precautions seriously and do everything in their power to protect themselves and their families. Be smart, and stay safe.”

Until now, only outdoor, lower-risk sports had been able to compete in much of the Lower Peninsula, while all sports but football have been contested in Regions 6 and 8 — including those teams from other regions traveling up north to play. 

Bowling alleys and ice rinks can also reopen, but solely for the purpose of organized sports. 

Thursday’s news came with a strong recommendation against the resumption of contact sports from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, but not, apparently, a restriction.

“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,” MDHHS chief medical executive Joneigh Khaldun said in the news release.

“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.”

Spectators are limited to two per participant for both indoor and outdoor competitions in those regions still in Phase 4 (1-5 and 7), while the limits remain at 250 for indoor competitions and 500 for outdoor competitions in Regions 6 and 8.

According to the MHSAA, the new EO also stipulates that “a facial covering is worn except when swimming,” but the association is seeking further guidance on the extent of that stipulation. The MHSAA’s announcement Thursday noted that schools which had opted out of fall sports can group up and play fall sports later in the school year, but the association will only be offering championships in the fall.

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