Whitmer: Indoor and outdoor sports allowed; Michigan gyms can reopen

Gyms can reopen at limited capacity and organized sports can resume in Michigan under new executive orders that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer released Thursday.

The long-awaited orders, Nos. 175 and 176, allow for organized sports with limitations on mask use and crowd size, despite guidance from Whitmer’s health department recommending against contact sports such as football, soccer and wrestling.

The orders would allow Michigan gyms and pools to reopen at 25% capacity starting Wednesday with strict protocols in place, including mask use at all times and distancing of six feet between workout stations and individuals participating in classes. 

Gym patrons must provide their name and phone number or will be denied entry. Saunas and jacuzzis must remain closed.

Indoor pools will be capped at 25% capacity, while outdoor pools remain capped at 50%. 

“I urge everyone who plans to hit the gym after these orders go into effect to take these precautions seriously and do everything in their power to protect themselves and their families,” Whitmer said in a Thursday statement. “Be smart, and stay safe.” 

Owner Ken Welch has been anticipating officially reopening Pointe Fitness and Training Center in Harper Woods for months. Closed during the coronavirus state shut down, many gyms are ready to open. Photos taken in Harper Woods, Mich. on June 25, 2020.

Indoor organized sports also can resume, but guests will be limited to two per athlete. Outdoor organized sports would be limited to up to 100 guests. 

Athletes will be required to wear masks, except when swimming, and should maintain six feet of distance when “compatible,” according to Whitmer’s order.

Bowling and ice rinks may only open for organized sports, according to the order.

The executive orders were followed closely by an announcement from the Michigan High School Athletic Association that reinstated the fall football season after it had been postponed to the spring. Games can begin Sept. 18, the league said.

The association also noted competitions could start immediately for boys soccer and on Wednesday for girls swimming, diving and volleyball. 

There is no mention in the orders of the reopening of movie theaters or banquet facilities in lower Michigan, where they have been shuttered since March.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services rules that were issued in tandem with the orders recommend against contact sports such as football, wrestling or soccer at schools and universities. But the department said the guidance could be adjusted with updated epidemiological data.

The health department’s guidance recommends frequent hand-washing, proper disinfecting of facilities or shared equipment, avoidance of shared items such as towels or water bottles, avoidance of post-game high fives or handshakes, and limitations on carpools.

There have been at least 30 outbreak investigations in recent weeks linked to sports teams, clubs and gyms, according to the state health department. The outbreaks can easily spread beyond the team and to the community. 

“Individuals can now choose whether or not to play organized sports, and if they do choose to play, this order requires strict safety measures to reduce risk,” Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said Thursday.

The orders do not detail exceptions for ancillary activities such as marching band or cheerleading, but noted the “elevated risk” that accompanies “shouting, singing or breathing forcefully.”

Public Guidance for Contact Sports.pdf | Transmission (Medicine) | Clinical Medicine

Whitmer’s administration has been hinting at the reopening of gyms and other shuttered businesses for about three weeks as calls to reopen the facilities have mounted. 

Most businesses in Michigan closed abruptly March 23 when Whitmer issued her Stay Home, Stay Safe order in an attempt to control the spread of the virus. 

She gradually loosened the restrictions, allowing 17 northern Michigan counties and the Upper Peninsula to reopen restaurants, bars, gyms and movie theaters in May. She re-tightened bar restrictions there in July. 

Lower Michigan restaurants reopened in June. 

Last month, Whitmer allowed Detroit’s three casinos to reopen at 15% capacity.

On Aug. 20, a day after the governor said her department was studying the possibility of reopening gyms, movie theaters and bowling alleys, four of the state’s largest business groups wrote Whitmer encouraging her to follow through with the consideration. 

The following week, Whitmer told media she wouldn’t be “bullied” into reopening the businesses. 

On Tuesday, Khaldun said she didn’t think “the governor has made any decisions there yet.”

 “I can tell you the virus has not changed at all,” Khaldun told WDET. “There’s still no vaccine. There’s still no approved antiviral treatment. We’re still seeing outbreaks across the state.”

The Michigan Fitness Club Association said Thursday it appreciated the reopening and committed to the “health and safety” of members and the public.

“We are well-prepared to ensure a safe, clean environment and we are excited to offer Michiganders the opportunity to resume their exercise routines,” the group said. “We look forward to working with Gov. Whitmer and her administration to help build a healthy Michigan.” 

For others, the executive orders were lacking key permissions that struggling, still-closed businesses sought.

The ongoing closure of banquet halls will kill facilities across the state, said Alex Lozovoj, general manager of the Italian American Cultural Society in Clinton Township. Lozovoj has canceled weddings and events, run through a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan and is about to start construction on a 3,000-square-foot outdoor platform to hold events. 

“We have no end in sight on this,” Lozovoj said. “We’re crying, we’re begging the government to open us back up because we’ve already lost all our peak time.

“If this doesn’t end soon, I can’t imagine any of the banquet halls in the state being bale to survive.”

eleblanc@detroitnews.com