Whitmer clarifies order: Masks not required for all sports in Michigan

Masks required only when athletes cannot consistently keep 6 feet apart

Thrall High School football player Hayden Stefek wears a face mask as he goes through a practice, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, in Thrall, Texas. Coronavirus testing in Texas has dropped significantly, mirroring nationwide trends, just as schools reopen and football teams charge ahead with plans to play. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) (Eric Gay, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

LANSING, Mich. – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer late Wednesday clarified her order requiring masks in organized sports, saying they must be worn in training and competition only when athletes cannot consistently keep 6 feet apart.

The measure explicitly mentions football, soccer and volleyball as sports where face coverings are a must due to the coronavirus pandemic. But it also now exempts sports in which athletes can keep distance “except for occasional and fleeting moments” — such as tennis, golf, cross country, baseball and softball.

Her initial order to reopen gyms and let additional organized sports resume, issued last week, required all athletes — “while on the field of play” — to wear a mask except when swimming. The Michigan High School Athletic Association, which quickly reinstated the postponed football season, said in a memo to schools that it was seeking further interpretations and guidance on the mask mandate.

READ: MHSAA reinstates fall football, other high school sports in Michigan

One question, for instance, had been about fall sports that had been underway for weeks without face coverings — golf, tennis and cross country statewide, and soccer in northern counties. The MHSAA declined to comment on the latest order, saying it would say more Thursday once “we know the full extent of what this requires.”

Whitmer's order continues to say that sports organizers must ensure that athletes comply with the mask requirement.

Earlier this week, state House Speaker Lee Chatfield, a Republican, criticized requiring children participating in outdoor sports to wear face coverings. “Tennis. Cross country. Soccer. Golf. (You get this point.) Let me be clear: this absolutely crazy. Wild!” he tweeted.

The governor, a Democrat whose state has seen nearly 6,900 deaths related to COVID-19, allowed athletic competitions to resume in regions where they had been restricted. Her administration released guidance, however, recommending against — but not prohibiting — contact sports. Those are defined as involving more than occasional and fleeting contact. They include football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, hockey, wrestling, field hockey, boxing and martial arts with opponents.

Whitmer, in a statement, said the virus “is easily spread through airborne particles and can affect everyone differently. By wearing a face covering when proper distancing is not possible, athletes will be better protected from contracting the virus and spreading it to family members, frontline workers and vulnerable populations.”