COVID-19 testing required for spring sports athletes
Fri, 03/19/2021 - 6:16pm caleb
New version of MDHHS order makes a few changes, including testing requirement for athletics and lifting mask requirements for residential gatherings in which all participants are vaccinated
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
According to state officials, the “key metrics” they are tracking with regard to COVID-19 – case rates, test positivity rates, and hospitalizations – are still increasing in the state, and the latest emergency order from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services puts in place a mandatory testing program for spring sports athletes as outbreaks related to athletics are becoming more prevalent.
“We must continue to be wary of the climbing COVID numbers,” said Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer during an update to the state on Friday, March 19. “Cases have been rising since late February. Thankfully, deaths have remained low and on Wednesday we had zero reported deaths for the first time in months, which is excellent news. A significant number of the recent cases have been attributed to high school athletics.”
Governor Whitmer announced a few changes to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services “Gatherings and Face Mask Order” on Friday, including testing requirements for student athletes, changes in stadium capacity limits, and removing mask requirements for residential gatherings in which all participants are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“High school students athletes will now be required to get tested before all sports practices and competitions. Outdoor stadiums can now go up to 20 percent capacity with certain COVID mitigations in place. And vaccinated people can remove their masks in residential gatherings if all participants have been vaccinated,” Governor Whitmer said.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Chief Medical Executive, said the testing requirement for athletics goes into effect in April, giving the department time to work with schools to set up the testing program. Testing regulations have already been used in Michigan high schools this year for contact sports, including football and wrestling.
“Beginning on April 2, 2021, gatherings for the purpose of sports practice and competition involving persons age 13 to 19 are prohibited unless all such persons participate in a testing program as specified in the MDHHS publication entitled Interim Guidance for Athletics issued March 20, 2021,” according to the March 19 version of the Gatherings and Face Mask Order.
Dr. Khaldun, during the March 19 update, said the state’s COVID-19 numbers are trending in the wrong direction, including cases and outbreaks associated with young people.
“Our progress with COVID-19 is fragile. While we’re making great progress with our vaccination efforts and many people are doing the right thing by wearing masks and not gathering in large groups, what we are seeing now is very concerning data that shows that we are going in the wrong direction with the key metrics that we are tracking for COVID-19,” Dr. Khaldun said.
“Case rates are now at 173 cases per million and have been increasing for the past four weeks. Case rates have increased 77 percent since mid-February and cases are increasing in all age groups, but the 10 to 19 year old age group has seen the largest increase. Our percent of tests that are positive has also increased for the past four weeks and is now at 6.2 percent. That is up 177 percent since mid-February. We are also seeing increases in our hospitalization rates for the past two weeks. Four-point-nine percent of available inpatient beds are being used to take care of patients who have COVID-19,” Dr. Khaldun said. “Many of the cases we are seeing are related to outbreaks. The number of outbreaks in the state increased nine percent from the previous week to 645. Last week, for the first time since we started tracking outbreaks, those in K-12 settings exceeded the number in long term care facilities.”
“Many of the outbreaks are related to sports. In January and February, local health departments identified 315 outbreaks associated with different sports teams related to clubs, schools, and recreational sports. This is concerning,” Dr. Khaldun said. “We also know that new more easily transmitted variants of the virus are very present in this state. This is likely contributing to our increase in cases. We could potentially be at the beginning of another surge in Michigan.”
Dr. Khaldun said the state is changing its vaccination eligibility requirements this week to include all residents age 50 and up and people age 16 and up with “medical conditions.” Next month, the eligibility requirements will change again, opening vaccine appointments to all Michigan residents age 16 and up, according to state officials.
“On April 5, all Michiganders 16 and up will be eligible to get vaccinated,” Governor Whitmer said.
Governor Whitmer said the state’s vaccination effort is going well with more than 3.3 million doses administered, but state officials are concerned about the presence of more contagious variants of COVID-19 in Michigan.
“Michigan now has at least 756 cases of the B.1.1.7 or U.K. variant, the second most confirmed cases of any state behind Florida. We also have two cases of the South African B.1.351 variant,” Governor Whitmer said.