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MDHHS and Gov. Whitmer extend ‘pause’ for 12 more days to help slow spread of COVID-19

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, December 7, 2020, 3:09 pm

The pause remains on.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Monday that the three-week pause put in place mid-November, and set to expire Wednesday, will be extended for an additional 12 days. 

“We’ve made progress during 3-week pause … but there’s more work we need to do to protect each other,” Whitmer said in the news conference.

The extension will run through Dec. 20, at which time another decision will be made. 

Asked about the possible resumption of high school sports, Gov. Whitmer put the return of in-person education for high school students ahead of that particular priority.

“As a parent of a high schooler … and as the Governor of Michigan, I believe that our first priority should be getting students back in the classroom safely. That, I believe, is paramount,” she said.

The order was extended under the authority of the MDHHS, and its director, Robert Gordon, echoed the prioritization of in-person schooling ahead of high school athletics.

“To add to what the governor said, the first priority is reopening high schools for education and sustaining that. I think when it comes to sports, there’s a range of risk levels. At one end, you have individual activities that are outdoors, and where people are spaced out. At another level, you have contact sports outdoors, and at another level, you have indoor contact sports. As you go through those levels, the level of risk increases, and we have to think carefully about moving through them. I would just leave it where the governor did, that our first priority — and also lower risk than a lot of those activities — is getting the schools open for education.”

The Michigan High School Athletic Association expressed its disappointment in the announcement, particularly after it had discussed with the governor’s office a plan to play the remainder of the fall seasons two weeks ago.

“We realize the crisis our medical caregivers and first responders are navigating and understand the need to continue the pause. However, the MHSAA had provided a detailed plan to both Gov. Whitmer and MDHHS that would have completed fall tournaments with no spectators as safely as possible during the month of December along with allowing winter sport practices to resume,” executive director Mark Uyl said. “While we are disappointed in today’s announcement, we will continue to look forward as we remain committed to play three sports seasons to their conclusion. The MHSAA Representative Council will meet on Wednesday of this week to chart out another plan for finishing fall and restarting winter.”  

Last Friday, Uyl said he was optimistic that the organization’s arguments to resume high school sports would be effective, but also said that they would go to a Plan B, if not. 

“Well, I’m not going to go too deep into that. We do have another plan. This goes back to March: Every plan you talk about, you’ve got two or three other options involved. If we’re not able to do anything until January, we’ll need to kind of go back to the drawing board, to say ‘OK, when can we finish volleyball, girls swimming and diving?’ And obviously football could not be played in our state in January or February,” Uyl said in a radio appearance on ‘The Huge Show.’ “We then potentially look at a possible early spring finish, which nobody wants. I think for those three spots, if we’re able to finish in December, to give those kids the closure they deserve, that’s the best-case scenario. With our winter sports, if we’re not able to practice or do anything until January, what we then have to do is kind of retool our winter tournament dates.”

Three fall sports — football, volleyball and girls swimming and diving — had their postseasons still going at the time of the initial shutdown, and will need to be resumed whenever the restrictions on athletics are lifted. After that, the winter sports — which were pushed back to the start of the new year by the initial pause — will be able to begin. 

In all likelihood, a resumption for football — unlikely in the winter in Michigan — would have to be pushed back to the spring, when the rosters of some remaining teams could be vastly altered by early enrollment of college recruits. Of note, that’s a relatively small percentage of the athletes involved. 

“Hope is on the horizon, but we need an additional 12 days to determine the full impact of the Thanksgiving holiday on our efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus,” Gov. Whitmer said in a news release. “This is all about protecting our families and frontline workers until we eradicate this virus once and for all. With recent daily case counts averaging well above 6,000, the daily death toll at alarming levels and the risk of hospitals becoming overwhelmed, we must work together as Michiganders and listen to our health experts. This may be the most difficult time yet in our struggle with COVID-19, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.” 

Gordon noted that high schools and stadiums will be among the next things to reopen, once the numbers begin to go in the right direction again, but noted that the latter — along with movie theaters, bowling alleys, etc. — would only be reopened if concessions remain closed.

“We each have a personal responsibility to wear a mask consistently and minimize indoor gatherings, so we can protect our frontline heroes and loved ones,” Gordon said in the news release. “If we don’t, the disease will continue to spread and people will continue to get sick and die.”

In all likelihood, a resumption for football — unlikely in the winter in Michigan — would have to be pushed back to the spring, when the rosters of some remaining teams could be vastly altered by early enrollment of college recruits. Of note, that’s a relatively small percentage of the athletes involved. 

Gordon noted that high schools and stadiums will be among the next things to reopen, once the numbers begin to go in the right direction again, but noted that the latter — along with movie theaters, bowling alleys, etc. — would only be reopened if concessions remain closed. 

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RELATED READING:

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