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7 takeaways from Whitmer’s COVID update: Michigan sports, variant spread, metrics

High school contact sports can resume next week

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at a Feb. 4, 2021, COVID-19 press briefing.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at a Feb. 4, 2021, COVID-19 press briefing. (WDIV)

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer provided an update on the state’s COVID-19 situation, addressing high school contact sports, the spread of a COVID variant, vaccinations and the latest virus trends.

Here are the takeaways from her Feb, 4, 2021, briefing.

Contact sports resume

Michigan youth contact sports will be allowed to resume practices and games starting on Monday (Feb. 8), with certain COVID-19 safety rules in place, Whitmer said.

Michigan youth contact sports can resume Monday: Here are all the rules, specifics and details

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive of MDHHS, said Michigan’s metrics allow for contact sports to continue, as long as masks are worn as much as possible and certain testing protocols are followed.

For contact sports to resume, masks must be worn during practices and competition, Whitmer said. If masks can’t be worn during play, participants have to be regularly tested for COVID-19, consistent with MDHHS’s Testing and Additional Mitigation Measures for Athletic Practice and Play guidance. according to the state.

Masks are not required for outdoor non-contact sports where participants can maintain a social distance. For all other sports, indoor and outdoor, masks or the testing protocol outlined above will be required.

When not actively playing, participants must maintain six feet of distance and wear face masks at all times, Whitmer said.

Up to 250 people are allowed in stadiums that seat fewer than 10,000 people, and up to 500 people are allowed at venues that seat more than 10,000 people.

Could outbreak cause sports to be shut down?

Khaldun and Whitmer were asked about balancing the resumption of sports and the risk of COVID-19 spread that could lead to students not being able to go to school.

“If you see athletics causing spread, will you hesitate to shut them down again?” a reporter asked.

Khaldun said it’s important to keep an eye on the situation and monitor potential outbreaks closely.

“Athletics and athletic teams are very closely associated with schools,” Khaldun said. “But also we know that schools can operate very safely, wearing masks and distancing, so that’s very, very important.

“We’ll continue to watch the numbers. We’ll continue to watch our cases, but we do think that there is a way for athletes to be able to participate in the safest way possible.”

Student Recovery Advisory Council

With less than a month until the recommended school reopening date of March 1, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has created a Student Recovery Advisory Council, which is aimed to help students get back on track during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In January, with Michigan students learning remotely, Whitmer encouraged all schools to offer an in-person option by March 1.

On Thursday (Feb. 4), she signed Executive Order 2021-02 to create the Student Recovery Advisory Council of Michigan.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Michigan hard, and our students, families, teachers, and school staff have all felt the strain,” Whitmer said. “Still, our educators have worked tirelessly to teach our children during this pandemic under the most stressful conditions, and for that our state is forever indebted to them for their service.

Click here to read the specific duties of the council.

1 million vaccines

At the start of Thursday’s briefing, Whitmer announced the state has vaccinated more than 1 million residents for COVID-19.

The state has administered 1,076,545 total doses as of Wednesday night, she said.

“That number is going up as we speak,” Whitmer said. “Every shot in the arm is a step forward toward ending the COVID-19 pandemic once and for all.”

Michigan’s goal is still to vaccinate 70% of people ages 16 and up, Whitmer said.

Michigan COVID metrics

Khaldun revealed promising movement with Michigan’s three most important COVID-19 metrics.

The state’s case rate is down to 159 cases per million population, she said. That number has been “declining steadily” over the past 24 days.

The Detroit, Traverse City and Upper Peninsula regions all have case rates below 150 cases per million people, according to Khaldun.

Michigan’s test positivity is down to 4.9% and continues to decline, Khaldun said. That percentage is the lowest Michigan has seen since mid-October.

Right now, 6.6% of the state’s hospital beds are filled with COVID-19 patients, according to Khaldun. She said that number is on the decline.

On Thursday, state officials announced 1,358 new COVID-19 cases and 74 additional deaths. Michigan has now confirmed 565,251 cases and 14,778 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

B117 variant

The new variant of COVID-19, B117, which shut down the University of Michigan athletic department for two weeks, is still a concern for officials.

“This variant is more easily spread from person to person,” Khaldun said. “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.”

So far, 28 cases of the B117 variant have been identified in Michigan, all in Washtenaw and Wayne counties, Khaldun said.

“There will likely be more,” Khaldun said. “We’re working very closely with our local health departments to make sure we are aggressively identifying any potential outbreaks and slowing the spread of this variant as much as possible.”

Super Bowl Sunday

Khaldun cautioned Michiganders not to let their guard down for Super Bowl Sunday.

“People will want to watch the game with family and friends,” Khaldun said. “Please be mindful that we have to do this differently this year, while we are still seeing so much virus in our communities.”

She said the state avoided a post-holiday surge late in 2020 because people followed COVID-19 safety recommendations.

“This Super Bowl Sunday, please avoid gatherings, and if you do gather, please keep it limited to only one other household, and make sure you’re wearing a mask, socially distancing and washing your hands frequently,” Khaldun said.


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