Michigan medical executive: Kids should avoid playdates

Lansing — Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun recommended Thursday that parents prohibit playdates for their children to decrease the spread of the coronavirus, even as the state has allowed students to congregate in classrooms and student-athletes to return to contact sports. 

Khaldun, a mother of three, recommended instead that parents organize virtual playdates. Barring that, playdates should be as small as possible, held outdoors and comply with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders, she said. 

“This social interaction is important for our children’s well-being, I completely understand that,” Khaldun said. “But please consider not having those playdates as you normally would. Try to be creative and have video conference calls with your children’s friends when possible.”

If gathered together, kids should maintain six feet of distance or wear a mask. 

“Every time you have a gathering, there’s a risk that someone there could have COVID-19,” Khaldun said. 

In addressing questions about recent state orders requiring mask use by student-athletes, Khaldun said there was little to no scientific evidence that it was unhealthy for athletes to wear a mask. 

“We understand that wearing a mask makes it less comfortable to participate in a sport,” she said. “…We do not have any proof that someone can’t exercise and if they can’t, quite frankly, then they maybe they won’t be able to participate unfortunately at this time.”

The chief medical executive’s comments came during a Thursday press conference where Whitmer announced that about 625,000 front-line workers are eligible for tuition-free college under a program called Futures for Frontliners. 

The $24 million program financed through federal CARES Act funding will help people obtain technical certificates, associate degrees and bachelor degrees. Eligibility applies to Michigan residents who have worked in an essential industry outside their home from April to June and have not already gained an associate or bachelor’s degree. 

The program, Whitmer said, was inspired by the GI bill that provided free college tuition to veterans. People working in the medical field, manufacturing, sanitation, retail and grocery stores are among those who could qualify.

Applications are due Dec. 31 and more details regarding who qualifies are available at michigan.gov/frontliners.

“These men and women have emerged as the real heroes in the midst of this pandemic,” Whitmer said Thursday.

The scholarship program aligns with Whitmer’s goal to increase the number of adults with a skilled training or a college degree from 45% to 60% by 2030.

Thursday marks six months since Michigan confirmed its first two coronavirus cases on March 10. Since then, the state has logged 108,595 cases and 6,552 deaths linked to the virus. 

Noting the six-month anniversary, Whitmer attacked the president for downplaying the coronavirus in his comments to the American people ahead of the March outbreak, noting that she’d long believed the administration to be “reckless and non particularly well-informed” about the virus. 

“But it’s a whole other thing to be reckless or ignorant than to be deceptive and to have American lives lost because of it,” Whitmer said. “They knew. They didn’t tell us.

“I think the biggest enemy of the state right now is the misinformation coming out of the head of state. And the biggest threat to the American people is the American president right now,” she said.

To control the spread, the governor has issued more than 170 executive orders but her authority is being challenged at the Michigan Supreme Court and through a petition initiative seeking to repeal a 1945 law under which she is issuing the orders. 

On Wednesday, Whitmer said the state is still in the “relatively early phases” of the pandemic. 

“This remains a novel virus,” she said. “We’re learning an incredible amount about COVID-19 every day, every week.”

eleblanc@detroitnews.com