MI Gov. Whitmer OKs gyms to reopen and organized sports to resume


In a photo provided by the Michigan Office of the Governor, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the state during a speech in Lansing, Mich., Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. The governor said she will make an announcement on reopening gyms and clarifying the standing of high school and other youth sports “very soon,” saying she knows many are anxious about their status amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Michigan Office of the Governor via AP)

LANSING, Mich. (NewsNation Now) — Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is officially reopening gyms and permitting organized sports to resume in the state.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association took to Twitter Thursday to announce fall football will happen.

The MHSAA Representative Council had postponed the fall season Aug. 14, citing the risk of coronavirus infection, but voted Thursday to allow it to go forward.

The season will restart Tuesday, Sept. 8 and there will be a tournament.

Schools can still postpone fall sports until the spring if they want, but MHSAA said the postseason will only be available to those who play on its timetable.

Whitmer allowed athletic competitions to resume in regions where they are restricted. Her order set a spectator limit of two per participant at competitions in much of the state.

Her administration released separate guidance, however, recommending against — but not prohibiting — sports involving more than occasional and fleeting contact: football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, hockey, wrestling, field hockey, boxing and martial arts with opponents.

MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl told NewsNation affiliate WOOD in a Thursday video call that the biggest benefit of resuming the football season was mental health.

“You talk about all the new data that comes out every day in terms of mental health, in the sense and need for normalcy that our kids need right now, we hear that from medical professionals right now on a daily basis,” Uyl said. “So certainly, COVID-19 is real and something that we have to continue to work and mitigate all of the risk that we can with COVID, but yet you can’t forget about the other parts of somebody’s health and well-being and mental health is becoming, I would argue, as big a factor as any.”

The governor also announced that gyms can reopen after 5 1/2 months of closure, lifting some coronavirus restrictions that lasted longer in Michigan than in many other states.

The order will go into effect Sept. 9, allowing for the reopening of fitness centers and indoor pools in remaining regions that hold 93% of the state’s population, subject to safety rules. Masks will be required at all times inside gyms, including during exercise. They opened in less populated northern counties in June, subject to smaller class sizes.

Whitmer did not reopen movie theaters despite some media reports that she would. Bowling alleys, roller rinks and ice rinks can open but only for the sole purpose of serving as a venue for organized sports.

The governor urged the schools districts and athletic associations to follow the guidelines issued by the state health department, which reported 36 outbreaks involving sports teams and facilities in August.

On Thursday, Michigan recorded 10 more deaths linked to coronavirus and confirmed 685 additional cases, the latest data from the state shows.

Over the past two weeks, the state’s 104.2 new cases per 100,000 people ranks 15th-lowest, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Republican, criticized Whitmer for not yet letting all businesses reopen, saying he is particularly “befuddled” that cinemas are still closed.

“I don’t believe there are any businesses in Michigan that should remain closed,” he told The Associated Press. “I believe that we’ve learned a lot since this insidious virus hit our shores, and no business owner wants to put their employees, their customers or their families at risk.”

Also Wednesday, a federal appeals court declined to block a requirement that Michigan’s agricultural and migrant farmworkers get tested for the coronavirus, rejecting claims that it violates the rights of Hispanics. A district judge had previously denied a preliminary injunction sought by some farms and workers.

Huntington Bankshares joined Whitmer’s news conference to announce a $5 billion, five-year lending, investment and philanthropic commitment in Michigan. Sandy Pierce, a senior executive vice president at the company, said it will place a special emphasis on lending to businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans. Another focus is expanding homeownership for minorities and low-to-moderate-income borrowers.

The state health department also announced that more than 20 additional free COVID-19 testing sites will open in the coming weeks.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said the overall case rate — 59 per 1 million residents per day — is lower than a week ago. The Detroit region has the highest rate, followed by — in descending order — the Grand Rapids, Saginaw, Kalamazoo, Traverse City, Upper Peninsula, Jackson and Lansing regions.

Khaldun said she expects the state will publicly post the names of schools with outbreaks within the next two weeks. Many schools have already opened, with the rest starting next week.

Earlier Wednesday, Whitmer met in Lansing with Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force. Whitmer said she reiterated the need for a national mask mandate.

Birx told reporters outside a Livonia hospital that residents should be cautious over the Labor Day weekend.

“Please, wear your mask,” she said. “When I say socially distance, it means at all times, including with family members that you may not have seen for a few weeks, including with the neighbors down the street. It is really important because we are seeing that crowded neighborhood events, including backyard barbecues, are currently one of the primary spreaders of virus.”

NewsNation affiliate WOOD and Associated Press contributed to this report.

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