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Michigan Lets High Schools, Entertainment Venues Reopen

Michigan Executive Office of the Governor
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer provides an update on COVID-19 numbers in the state Friday, December 18, 2020.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration on Friday lifted a prohibition on in-person instruction at Michigan high schools and said movie theaters and other entertainment venues can reopen with capacity restrictions following a decline in coronavirus cases.

Universities and colleges can let students return to campus next month, with a request to wait until Jan. 18 to restart face-to-face classes.

Indoor restaurant dining will continue to be barred under the new state health department order that takes effect Monday, however, as will indoor sports and outdoor contact sports unless there is rigorous testing like there is at the pro and NCAA levels. Bowling alleys, casinos and other entertainment businesses that reopen must close drink and food concessions.

The order will last through Jan. 15, though the Democratic governor said she will seriously consider lifting some provisions sooner “if we substantially sustain our progress.” She and top health officials announced the revised measure at a news conference Friday afternoon.

“The curve is flattening. But we can’t let our guard down for a second because our fortunes can change fast,” Whitmer said.

The restrictions began Nov. 18 following a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations statewide. All high schools and colleges have been virtual. Youth sports, including football playoffs, have been on hold. K-8 schools have been able to continue with on-site classes, though — as has been the case all fall — it is not required for them or high schools.

State health director Robert Gordon announced an antigen-testing program so the high school football, volleyball, and swimming and diving tournaments can be completed.

Michigan’s seven-day average of daily new COVID-19 cases is at 4,662, well down from 8,344 two weeks ago. The average positivity rate is 9%, a drop from 13.3% on Dec. 3, according to The COVID Tracking Project. Average daily deaths, which lag cases, have slightly risen from 124 to nearly 129 over two weeks. About 3,400 were hospitalized with virus-related symptoms on Thursday, a decrease from roughly 4,300 on Dec. 1.

“Michiganders did what they were supposed to do over the Thanksgiving holiday, and we avoided the surge that so many other states are seeing,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive and chief deputy health director. “While I’m still concerned that our cases are six times higher than they were at the beginning of September, things are certainly trending in the right direction.”

Last week, private schools challenged the high school closure in court, saying it violates the constitutional right to practice religion.

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