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Michigan: Contact sports can resume Monday, with masks

Basketball referee photo
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Michigan’s health department lifted a monthslong ban on contact sports that was ordered to help curb rising coronavirus cases, starting Monday, as long as masks are worn.

Thursday’s announcement from Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer came a week after she had expressed optimism about a restart — amid growing pressure from parents, athletes, school administrators and Republican lawmakers. If face coverings cannot be worn, athletes must be regularly tested for COVID-19 under the revised order.

The ban began Nov. 18, when the Whitmer administration also prohibited in-person instruction at high schools and reinstated business closures and restrictions to address a resurgence in cases and hospitalizations.

Contact sports have been barred unless all participants, teams and venues comply with an enhanced virus testing regimen, as conducted by pro and college leagues, or a pilot testing program, which enabled the recent completion of fall high school tournaments that had been suspended. Winter high school sports — basketball, hockey, wrestling and competitive cheer — along with youth leagues have effectively been restricted to non-contact activities only.

A group called Let Them Play Michigan, a hockey league and the parents of five high school athletes sued the state this week.

“We are pleased at our continued progress in Michigan that has allowed us to take this step forward in a phased approach,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive and chief deputy for health.

A 250- to 500-spectator limit will remain in place, depending on the size of a stadium or arena.

The state let high schools resume face-to-face classes on Dec. 21, when entertainment businesses also were allowed to reopen with capacity limits. Restaurants resumed indoor dining earlier this week.