News Story

Detroit Schools Superintendent Blasts State For Ongoing Winter Sports Lockdown

‘This is govt babble’

In a series of pointed tweets aimed at Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti challenged the science behind the state’s ongoing lockdown of winter sports at Michigan schools.

Vitti specifically questioned how the lockdown can be justified, even as bars and restaurants are permitted to reopen for dine-in service on Feb. 1. The sports lockdown applies to girls and boys basketball, ice hockey, competitive cheerleading and wrestling, which all remain closed for “contact activities" until Feb. 21.

Included in Vitti’s tweets was the 328-word text of an explanation sent by the state Department of Health and Human Services to the news site MLive (posted below).

Vitti tweeted: “Student-athletes deserve better than this. This is govt babble. Saying something without saying anything. The data used here is misleading by not just focusing on high school athletics which showed limited outbreaks.”

The superintendent of the state’s largest school district continued: “Your data number for high school sports was too low so you had to include college and pros. Come on? If teenage outbreaks are a concern to the greater society why can schools be open now?”

Vitti’s tweets also challenged state officials discussing, in this context, reports of a COVID-19 variant in Michigan. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated, “Currently, there is no evidence that these variants cause more severe illness or increased risk of death.”

Vitti’s take was this: “The variant. Why are we focusing on winter sports as the health concern linked to the variant? If you are that worried about the variant we are restaurants and bars opening? We aren’t bingo halls or churches closed in Washtenaw to protect the most vulnerable citizens?”

Meanwhile, high school athletes in Michigan are posting on Twitter under the hashtag #letusplay, with their stories about why they want to be allowed to compete.

Here is 328-word rationale, published on MLive, that state officials gave for keeping winter sports at Michigan high schools closed:

“We are pleased to continue incrementally reopening the economy with the recent MDHHS order. Counties around the country have faced outbreaks of COVID-19 associated with sports teams. In Michigan, there were 42 outbreaks associated with athletics (K-12 schools, professional, collegiate, and commercial venues) in August and September of 2020 before restrictions on contact sports were implemented, and MDHHS and local health departments are still identifying outbreaks on teams that are currently playing. Outbreaks of this magnitude have the potential to affect not just a sports team, but the community in which the players and coaches reside as well.”

“Sports that require frequent closeness between players make it more difficult to prevent disease transmission, compared to sports where players are not as close to each other. The risk of COVID-19 transmission is increased by the number of individuals a player physically interacts with, as well as the intensity and duration of that interaction. The arrival of the new B. variant also means even more caution must be taken so we avoid the rapid rise in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths that other countries that have seen this variant have experienced.”

“Even with mitigation measures in place, such as wearing of masks, disease transmission cannot be completely prevented when players are in prolonged or intense contact. Contact sports include the following: football, basketball, rugby, field hockey, soccer, lacrosse, wrestling, hockey, boxing, futsal and martial arts with opponents. These risks are even greater for indoor contact sports where there is not natural ventilation to mitigate the close proximity of participants.”

“Teams that can implement robust public health measures may be able to decrease risk, but risk remains elevated. We will continue to carefully watch the data to assess what other activities can be permitted. We are also laser focused on achieving our goal of vaccinating at least 70% of Michiganders age 16 and up as quickly as possible so we can end this pandemic and get back to a sense of normalcy.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.