Order Raises Capacity for Outdoor Sporting Events, Increases Testing for Student-Athletes

The number of fans who can attend outdoor sporting events went up, high school athletes are required to do more testing and people can take their masks off at indoor gatherings as long as everyone’s been vaccinated after the Michigan Deparatment of Health and Human Services updated its Gatherings and Mask epidemic order Friday.

The new order raises the capacity at outdoor stadiums to 20% under the new order, which goes into effect just ahead of the Detroit Tigers home opener April 1. Under the previous order, only 1,000 fans were expected, although the Tigers had said they expected an increase.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talked Friday about the state’s rising COVID-19 numbers, and said a big part of the increase could be attributed to the resumption of high school sports. That’s why, under the new order, high school athletes will now be required to be tested before practices and competitions.

The changes to the order go into effect Monday, March 22, and continue through April 19.

“The pandemic has been hard on all of us, but by staying focused on acting quickly, following the science, and listening to experts, we can save lives and help our economy recover faster,” Whitmer said. “Today’s action is an important step toward normalcy, but there’s still more work to do.

Under the changes to the order, gatherings at outdoor stadiums and arenas are increased to 20% of the venue’s capacity if the site: 

  • Establishes an infection control plan that complies with the protocols included in MDHHS’s document entitled Enhanced Outdoor Stadium and Arena Guidance
  • Posts the mitigation plan publicly. 
  • Sends infection control plans to the local health department and MDHHS at least seven days before scheduled events.  
  • Administers a testing program as specified in MDHHS’s Guidance for Athletics for all players. 

The increase to capacity was welcomed by the Tigers’ organization.

“We are thrilled to safely welcome back the best fans in baseball to Comerica Park for Opening Day and beyond,” said Chris Granger, Group President, Sports and Entertainment, Ilitch Holdings. “As the season progresses, we look forward to continued coordination with public health and medical experts, government officials and Major League Baseball to ensure a safe and enjoyable environment for all Detroit Tigers fans.” 

The order also increases weekly testing for youth athletes ages 13-19 to safely participate in sports. More information on the program is available on the Michigan.gov/Coronavirus website

Frankenmuth High School Principal JoLynn Clark said Michigan’s students deserve to safely enjoy the fullest high school experience we can offer.”

“That means finding ways to provide in-person instruction along with extracurricular activities, a fundamental part of a student’s life,” Clark said. “This past fall, educators witnessed firsthand the detrimental impacts to both instruction and student well-being that comes when we cannot find ways to safely do both. The implementation of the testing program that allowed student-athletes to complete their fall seasons provided much needed closure, and we at Frankenmuth High School benefitted from this program.

“It allowed us to not only finish the fall season, but also provided opportunities for student-athletes in winter sports,” she added. “We know we must remain vigilant in our efforts to mitigate the spread of this virus in schools as we look ahead to and are encouraged by the possibilities for in-person instruction, extra-curricular activities, and end-of-year celebrations.” 

The changes to the order come as Michigan’s COVID-19 numbers have been rising, amid the arrival of other variants of the disease. In recent days:   

  • Positivity rate: has increased for four weeks to 6.2%. This metric is up 177% from the mid-February low but remains below the December high of 19.4%.  
  • Statewide case rate: This metric has increase over the past four weeks to 172.9 cases per million. The rate is up 77% from the low in mid-February but remains below peak of 737.8 cases per million on Saturday, Nov 14.
  • Hospital capacity dedicated to COVID-19 is now at 4.9%. This metric peaked at 19.6% on Tuesday, Dec. 4 and is now up 25% from an end of February low.  

“More than 3.2 million doses of the safe and effective COVID vaccines have been administered in Michigan, and we are well on our way to vaccinating 70% of Michiganders ages 16 and up,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS. “While we are still very much fighting this pandemic and seeing concerning trends in new cases and hospitalizations, we are making these incremental steps that align with CDC guidance. We are again at a pivotal moment in our fight against COVID-19.”

Whitmer said she envisions a return to family events, hosting small gatherings “in your back yard,” hugging loved ones, but tied it to increased vaccinations.

“You’ll have a summer of fun ahead if we all can get vaccinated,” Whitmer said. “We’ve been ‘getting through’ this pandemic. We’re ‘surviving.’  But soon we’ll be getting back to living.”