News Story

Whitmer Cited Virus Variant To Justify School Sports Lockdown; Silent On It In About-Face

Contact sports were locked down until Feb. 21; now they can reopen Feb. 8

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will allow high schools to resume contact sports Feb. 8, “provided masks are worn during practices and competition.”

This appears to be an about-face by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, given one of the rationales she has used to justify the lockdown, which was imposed on Nov. 18 and not scheduled to expire until Feb. 21.

Whitmer’s defense of the action has included raising fears about the emergence of a coronavirus variant.

As quoted on Jan. 25 in a WJRT article, Whitmer said, “I understand the concern that parents and athletes have and their desire to reengage, but also point to some events that just happened in the last couple of days with seeing this variant growing in around Washtenaw County and around the University of Michigan campus.”

In a Jan. 28 WXYZ interview, Whitmer again mentioned the coronavirus variant as a reason to ban contact sports.

“But the fact of the matter is the variant is very concerning. We know that the one that came out of the UK has been present in Washtenaw County, probably beyond. There is a variant that’s coming out of Brazil that’s even more deadly, and so that’s the context that matters when we’re looking at these numbers too. But trust me, as a parent of a high schooler myself, I’d love to get this part of life reengaged, but getting the kids back in the classroom, that’s paramount,” Whitmer said.

However, Whitmer made no mention of the virus variant in a Feb. 4 press release announcing that the ban on contact sports would be lifted as of Feb. 8.

“We continue to make progress in reducing cases and hospitalizations, helping protect our families and frontline workers and saving lives. Now, starting February 8, contact sports can resume with safety measures in place,” said Whitmer. “Michigan continues to be a national leader in fighting this virus, and we must continue using a fact-based approach so we can return to a strong economy and normal day-to-day activities. One of the most important things Michiganders can do is to make a plan to get the safe and effective vaccine when it’s available to you. And as always, mask up and maintain six feet of social distancing. We all have a personal responsibility to slow the spread of the virus so we can end this pandemic together.”

The state’s last press release on the variant was Jan. 23. That press release stated that a variant case has been found in a second county, this time in Wayne County.

“The new variant is present in Michigan and we are at risk of seeing more spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at the state health department, on Jan. 23.

However, in the state press release announcing contact sports would be allowed, the variant was no longer a factor.

“Today’s announcement is possible because of our progress over the last two months,” said Elizabeth Hertel, the state health department director. “Michiganders need to remain vigilant, however, as we now have a new more easily transmitted variant of this virus present in our state.”


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.