Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday allowed for the return of pro sports in Michigan as long as fans aren’t in attendance.
The move followed Major League Baseball’s decision this week to set a 60-game schedule to start July 23 or July 24 in empty ballparks. The governor said pro teams can resume operations notwithstanding capacity limits and restrictions on gatherings and events to curb the coronavirus.
Games must be played without a live audience for the “time being.” Only staff of the facility and media can attend.
“While this is an encouraging step in the reopening of our economy, it is critical for athletes to continue social distancing and taking precautions to stay safe,” Whitmer said in a statement.
Participants must stay 6 feet apart “ to the extent compatible with the sporting activity,” according to the order. It does not address college sports.
Outdoor social gatherings and events are allowed under a separate measure but cannot exceed 100 people except in much of northern Michigan, where the cap is 250. Indoor gatherings and events are limited to 50 people in northern Michigan and 10 elsewhere.
The state health department on Thursday reported 19 additional COVID-19 deaths and 353 new confirmed cases. The seven-day case average, 241, was up from 160 a week ago.
There were 33.7 new cases per 100,000 people in Michigan over the past two weeks — the eight-lowest rate in the U.S. All told, more than 6,100 have died — the eighth-highest per capita — and nearly 69,000 have been infected.
Whitmer imposed one of country’s most restrictive stay-at-home orders after the Detroit area was an early hot spot nationally but has been gradually reopening the economy.
This week she waited to reopen more businesses — like gyms and movie theaters — in 51 counties following an uptick in some places, however. In East Lansing, at least 43 cases have been tied to a bar near Michigan State University that was able to reopen more than two weeks ago. It has temporarily closed.
Whitmer may still move the 51 counties into the next phase of the restart by July 4, which has been her hope.