Under pressure from legislative Republicans, student-athletes and their parents, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) will allow high school sports to resume on February 8.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer denied the political pressure had anything to do with removing restrictions on winter athletics.
“I’ve been very clear throughout this crisis that we are going to follow the science and that’s what we have been doing,” says Whitmer.
Statistics from MDHHS show COVID-19 case rates have been in solid decline for the past 24 days.
“Throughout this time, we’ve been watching our numbers closely to make sure that we do achieve forward progress,” Whitmer says. “We are continuing to make it possible for students to get back into in-person learning as well.”
Whitmer and MDHHS had set March 1 as a target for all schools to offer in-person instruction.
17-year-old Nico Johnson from Britton, MI is looking forward to his basketball team returning to the court Monday evening.
“Anytime that you’re able to get out there on the court and compete with other schools… just not within your own school… I think it feels normal,” says Johnson.
MDHHS Director, Elizabeth Hertel, says sports should be safe if proper precautions are taken.
“As we watch those case rates decline, we feel that we can safely open up these other activities as long as we continue to ensure that we’re putting our mitigation measures in place,” says Hertel.
GOP leaders in the state Senate have blocked Whitmer’s appointments, including that of MDHHS director Hertel. Republicans have suggested the state should cede control of all pandemic orders, and instead allow local health departments to make policy.
Despite regulations being relaxed, there’s still concern about the B.1.1.7. strain of the coronavirus.
Chief Medical Executive Doctor Joneigh Khaldun says the presence of a new, more contagious strain highlights the need to remain vigilant.
“If this variant becomes more common, as national experts predict it could then we could see a very rapid rise in cases and more hospitalizations and deaths,” Khaldun says.
Despite the improving infection numbers, people should re-think their plans for watching football.
“Michigan largely avoided a post-holiday surge because we all did the right thing,” Khaldun says. “This Super Bowl Sunday, please avoid gatherings. If you do gather, please keep it limited to only one other household.”