Despite new guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, mask wearing will continue for high school sports athletes for the time being.
According to Michigan High School Athletic Association communications director Geoff Kimmerly, the MHSAA will continue enforce the mask rules for spring sports athletes as mandated by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
On Tuesday, the CDC announced fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear a mask for many individual and small-group outdoor activities. However, the MHSAA has not received any updates from the MDHHS regarding changes to mask mandates for high school athletes.
“We haven’t received any masking changes yet per what the CDC recommended this week,” Kimmerly said in a message to MLive. “But we have good communication with MDHHS so if there are changes coming, I’m sure we will know about them soon.”
Currently, the MHSAA enforces the MDHHS mandate that masks are to be worn during practice and competition for outdoor contact sports, which are girls soccer, girls lacrosse and boys lacrosse. Face masks are optional for athletes in active participation in all other spring sports but are required at all other times when not involved in active participation. If practices are held indoors, masks must always be worn no matter the sport.
After Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the “MI Vacc to Normal” plan on Thursday morning, Kimmerly does not expect the mask mandates for athletes to end anytime soon. According to Whitmer’s plan, facemask orders will be lifted two weeks after 70 percent of Michigan’s 16-and-older population has received at least one dose of a vaccine. As of Wednesday, 48.8% of Michiganders 16 and older have initiated the vaccination process.
“We have nothing that says there is going to be any changes before that,” Kimmerly said. “As of right now, that’s the most current information I have.”
Despite the current gap between current vaccinations and the goal to lift mask mandates, Kimmerly said the MHSAA is pleased to finally see specific goals and guidance toward a return to normalcy.
“This is something that people have asked for,” Kimmerly said. “I think this really delivers on what people have hoped to see for a while now. There are very specific goals here and there are things tied to those.”
In the meantime, Kimmerly said the goal is clear: It is time to get vaccinated so sports can return to normal for the kids.
“The message is there’s a map now,” Kimmerly said. “There are specific directions and specific goals that need to be reached in order for us to get back to normal in athletics, just as we would like to get back to normal in a variety of ways. We are encouraging people to get vaccinated. It’s that simple.”
While Kimmerly understands some people do not want to get vaccinated, he does hope this can help sway people to consider getting vaccinated.
“I’m not a doctor, so I’m not qualified to say what’s fair and what’s not, but it certainly spells things out,” Kimmerly said.
Kimmerly also expressed hope that Michigan will reach the 60 percent vaccination mark before indoor sports return next fall. According to the Vacc to Normal plan, indoor capacity at sports stadiums will increase to 25 percent; indoor capacity at conference centers, banquet halls and funeral homes will increase to 25 percent; gym capacity will increase to 50 percent; and bars and restaurants will no longer be required to close early.
As for when he thinks the mask mandates will end for athletes, Kimmerly preaches patience.
“Do I think it’s attainable by the end of the spring? I think that’d be quite an ask,” Kimmerly said. “But certainly by fall, if you look at the numbers and the metrics like all of us do and how many people are being vaccinated every day, I would think by the fall, we should get pretty close to 70 percent if the enthusiasm for getting vaccinated stays at a good level. It’ll be interesting to see if this motivates those who are maybe deciding between doing it and not doing it.
“Certainly, we are looking forward to that 70 percent. We would like to get back to normal.”