Michigan ups stadium capacity, requires teen athlete testing

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LANSING — Michigan on Friday eased outdoor stadium capacity restrictions before baseball’s Opening Day but ordered weekly testing of teen athletes amid a climbing coronavirus case rate that ranks fourth nationally over the past week.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said, for now, she does not plan to tighten COVID-19 restrictions — noting ongoing vaccinations while also citing concerns about virus variants that more easily spread.

“If we all take our own personal responsibility here, we can keep these things reengaged and do it safely,” the Democratic governor said during a news conference, in which a top state health official warned the state may be at the beginning of a third surge.

Under a revised health order that takes effect Monday, certain outdoor arenas and stadiums — including the Detroit Tigers’ Comerica Park — can seat 20% of their capacity if they have an infection-control plan that complies with state guidelines. The cap, which has been 1,000, will rise to around 8,000 for Tigers games.

Starting April 2, all athletes ages 13 to 19 must participate in a weekly coronavirus testing program.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, pointed to 315 outbreaks associated with sports teams in January and February.

“We want to identify any cases as soon as possible and prevent spread,” she said.

The order also will let people go unmasked at residential gatherings if everyone has been vaccinated, which aligns with recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Michigan’s COVID-19 case and positivity rates have been rising for a month. Related hospitalizations have gone up the past two weeks. School-related outbreaks for the first time exceeded those in long-term care facilities, which Khaldun attributed to vaccinating staff and residents but also said speaks to the risk of children’s activities such as sports.

“The most important thing we all want for our children is to have in-person learning and not have school closures,” she said.

Khaldun expressed concern about the state’s virus numbers.

“I know it’s getting warmer, vaccines are rolling out and people are tired of this pandemic. But we’re not out of the woods yet,” she said, saying Michigan may be on the verge of another surge. “How this plays out depends on what we all do collectively to protect ourselves and our families.”

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