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Judge hears arguments over virus tests for school athletes

basketball referee photo

Attorneys for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration defended coronavirus testing for school athletes, telling a judge Tuesday that state law gives the health director extraordinary power to respond to a pandemic.

A parent group called Let Them Play Michigan is seeking an injunction to stop weekly COVID-19 tests, which kicked in April 2 for athletes ages 13-19, related quarantines and mask requirements.

The group argues that the policy must go through a formal rule-making procedure, a process that would take weeks or months. Critics have been encouraged by recent court victories by wrestlers who convinced judges to let them compete in state tournaments. They had repeatedly tested negative but were benched because of infections among other students.

Zac Gibson of Lakewood High in Lake Odessa won a state title.

“Student-athletes have a protected liberty interest in associating with their peers and mentors and participating in athletic competitions as a component of their education,” attorney Peter Ruddell said in a filing at the Court of Claims.

More than 1,000 people at times watched Judge Michael Kelly hear arguments Tuesday over Zoom.

Assistant Attorney General Darrin Fowler said state law is clear: A health director can use emergency orders to combat a pandemic.

Fowler said the broader interests of public health far outweigh the group’s claim of injuries.

“Epidemics are unique situations that can evolve, just as we have seen COVID-19 evolve,” he said, “and they require quick and malleable responses to meet the changing understanding of conditions on the ground.”

Kelly said he would make a decision soon.

The state health department, meanwhile, reported 3,676 new cases Tuesday, down 30% from a week earlier, and 105 additional deaths. Whitmer said she anticipates making virus-related policy changes soon “that will feel a little bit more normal for all of us.”

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