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MASK UP: Gov. Whitmer clarifies mask requirement for fall sports with EO requiring them for volleyball, soccer and football

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, September 9, 2020, 7:33 pm

Masks? Wear ‘em, unless you can stay six feed away from a competitor.

After last week’s orders from Lansing allowing fall sports to move forward, the Michigan High School Athletic Association asked for clarification on the conflicting language in Executive Orders 153 and 176, regarding the requirement of masks for competitors.

Wednesday evening that clarification came from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office in the form of Executive Order 180, which states that masks must be worn at all time for athletes — during training or competition — when they cannot maintain more than six feet of social distance between themselves and others.

Masks are not required for swimming while competing (an exception already noted), or for golf, tennis or cross country, which can maintain social distancing “except for occasional and fleeting moments,” the order says with a parenthetical reference.

Facial coverings are, however, required for football, soccer and volleyball. 

The EO also notes: “Sports organizers must ensure that athletes comply with this section for each organized sporting event.”

“The COVID-19 virus is easily spread through airborne particles and can affect everyone differently. By wearing a face covering when proper distancing is not possible, athletes will be better protected from contracting the virus and spreading it to family members, frontline workers and vulnerable populations,” Gov. Whitmer said in a news release announcing the new EO. “We cannot afford to let our guard down. As we continue to fight this virus, we need to make smart and informed choices so we can beat COVID-19 together.” 

When the governor opened pools and gymnasiums for organized sports in areas of the state where they’d been closed, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services was on the record recommending against contact sports. The MHSAA quickly moved to reinstate football to the fall, reversing its decision from nearly three weeks earlier.

The MDHHS cited the elevated risk associated with activities that involve “shouting, singing or breathing forcefully,” while noting that there have been 30 reported outbreaks across the state associated with athletic teams or facilities. 

“We are not out of the woods yet, and COVID-19 is still a persistent threat to our frontline workers, students and families,” Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said in Wednesday’s news release. “Individuals have a choice about whether or not to play organized sports. Since contact sports pose a high risk of transmitting COVID-19, MDHHS recommends that people should chose to avoid them. For those who do choose to play organized sports, we expect you to follow these strict safety measures and wear a face covering to reduce your risk and protect the health of your teammates, coaches, officials and loved ones.”

After last week’s reinstatement of football by the MHSAA and the opening of gyms and pools, many of the districts — like East Lansing, Okemos and Ferndale — that had postponed fall sports made the decision to reinstate them, as well. 

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