LANSING, MI – After a state Capitol rally, a social media campaign and a Court of Claims lawsuit, high school winter contact sports will be allowed to return next week.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Thursday that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is reinstating winter contact sports for high schools statewide. The official start is Monday, Feb. 8.
The sports that will resume are boys and girls basketball, wrestling, competitive cheer and ice hockey. The order is in effect until March 29, and requires masks during play and practice. For sports where masks are not practical, athletes must receive antigen testing at least three times a week on non-consecutive days.
Whitmer said the Let Them Play movement didn’t influence the decision to green-light sports, but that didn’t stop the celebration of the more than 39,000 who supported the movement on Facebook.
Last week, Republican lawmakers organized hearings with the Let Them Play advocates and adopted a Senate resolution to lift the sports suspension. Meanwhile, House Speaker Rep. Jason Wentworth, R-Clare, called Thursday “a good day for the people of the state of Michigan.”
“Gov. Whitmer finally put politics aside, and she listened to science and data and to anguished parents and students — and reopened high school sports,” he said in a statement. “Starting Monday, the youth of our state can participate in sports programs that boost their physical and mental health and that promote healthy family life and school life.”
Here are a few other developments this week in Michigan politics:
Don’t expect Republicans to stop protesting Whitmer
The Michigan Senate blocked another five of Whitmer’s appointees Wednesday in an ongoing protest of her COVID-19 restrictions.
There is no specific order Whitmer could rescind that would satisfy GOP lawmakers, according to Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey’s office.
“The Majority Leader has not identified any specific compromise or goal,” said Shirkey spokeswoman Amber McCann.
Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, said on the Senate floor that Whitmer’s use of her executive authority has “emasculated” the Legislature to the point where obstructing appointments is among the only options left.
House OKs Republican coronavirus spending plan
On Thursday, the Michigan House approved a $3.5 billion plan to fund COVID-19 vaccinations and other response measures, tying some of the money for schools to a bill that would give local health departments more authority in determining coronavirus restrictions.
Lawmakers voted largely along partisan lines on a package that would allocate some of the billions of dollars in coronavirus aid from the federal government that’s intended to fund vaccination efforts, shore up schools for a return to in-person learning and provide other relief for residents such as rental and food assistance.
Negotiations on how to spend the federal COVID-19 dollars are far from over. The House plan is vastly different from the $5.6 billion plan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed last month, and Senate Republicans have yet to weigh in.
Whitmer officials testify in House, Senate on COVID-19 policies
MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel spoke to lawmakers in both House and Senate hearings this week to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
She defended her department’s use of a “Social Vulnerability Index,” which aims to allocate vaccines to areas with higher percentages of vulnerable senior citizens, people with co-morbidities and minorities at greater risk of infection.
While the state tries to send vaccines to more vulnerable regions, she said it’s up to local departments to prioritize vaccines for residents at greater risk of death.
“Our methodology is only what we use to determine the numbers (of vaccines) going to providers,” she said Wednesday. “Once the vaccines go to those providers, they have their own planning in place to reach the populations they will be vaccinating.”
She also claimed that Michigan is close to administering every dose it has distributed, which is refuted by CDC statistics updated Feb. 3. Michigan is currently about 600,000 doses behind.
Rep. David LeGrand, D-Grand Rapids, called some of the vaccine rollout plan “a trainwreck,” asking Hertel what is the “limiting factor on the speed of the rollout.”
“The pressure point right now, the actual barrier is the number of vaccines that we have to administer,” she said. “We are working very closely with the Biden administration and the CDC to coordinate the increase of the vaccines that are coming into each state for administration.”
The eventual plan is for the COVID-19 vaccine to have as much access as the flu vaccine on an annual basis, with it being available at a local pharmacy or physician, she said.
Another state official also testified to the House and Senate this week. Michigan State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice broke down the implementation of “Return to Learn” this past fall.
He said he expects schools will be able to reopen “in weeks” if coronavirus cases remain flat.
Other bills of interest:
- State Rep. Felicia Brabec, D-Pittsfield Twp., introduced House Bill 4156 this week, which would require at least one counselor for every 450 enrolled students in K-12 public school districts and public school academies.
- House Bill 4162, sponsored by Rep. Cynthia Johnson, D-Detroit, would require MDHHS and the Michigan Strategic Fund to report how much COVID-19 relief funds were allocated to each legislator’s district.
— to www.mlive.com