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What Michigan’s top health official said about making athletes wear masks during sports

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun says athletes who can’t play with masks on might not be able to participate

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, at the state's Sept. 10, 2020, coronavirus (COVID-19) press briefing.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, at the state's Sept. 10, 2020, coronavirus (COVID-19) press briefing. (WDIV)

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan’s top medical official was asked about possible breathing difficulties for high school athletes required to wear masks during sports, and she said it’s possible some students might not be able to participate if they can’t do so with face coverings.

Officials with the World Health Organization claim children shouldn’t wear masks while playing sports or engaging in physical activity because it could compromise their breathing.

The Cleveland Clinic recommends anyone running with a mask stays alert for possible chest pain, dizziness, lightheadedness and difficulty breathing.

READ: How coronavirus cases are currently trending in all 8 Michigan regions

“Knowing all of that, specifically, what science or data are you using in requiring mask wearing for sports like football, volleyball, soccer in Michigan?” Local 4′s Rod Meloni asked Thursday at Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s press briefing.

Whitmer deferred to Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Khaldun is a former college athlete and her three children play sports.

Here’s her full answer to the question:

"I can say, of course, I’ve looked at the WHO website. We understand that wearing a mask makes it less comfortable to participate in a sport. We also understand there is some data -- I would not say it is proven -- but there is some data that shows that the respiratory -- the parameters, if you will. I’m trying to keep my language simple -- but things like respiratory rate could potentially increase if you’re wearing a mask while exercising, but we do not have any proof that someone cannot exercise.

“If they can’t, quite frankly, then maybe they won’t be able to participate, unfortunately, at this time. But for contact sports, it is recommended -- given where we are with COVID-19 cases across the state -- it is recommended to wear a mask, and if someone is unable to, then they may not be able to participate at this time.”

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