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Michigan governor calls for end to high school classes and youth sports

LANSING, Michigan – Faced with the highest rate of new coronavirus infections in the country, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Friday called for a two-week suspension from in-person high school classes, all youth sports and restaurants indoors.

She stopped before ordering restrictions, instead asking for voluntary compliance to slow the spread of Covid-19.

High schools should switch to virtual learning, sports for school and non-school youth should be discontinued, people should choose outdoor or take-out meals instead of sitting indoors, and they should avoid meeting with friends indoors, she said.

“We have to do this together. Lives depend on it, ”Whitmer said at a press conference, again urging residents to get vaccinated. “We’re going to have tough weeks ahead. So I ask everyone – please take this seriously.

The Democratic governor also renewed his call for the federal government to send additional vaccines. President Joe Biden’s administration will provide additional resources but not doses.

About 40 percent of state residents aged 16 and older have received at least one vaccine, including 69 percent of those 65 and older. Chief medical officers at Michigan hospitals said the vaccines were more than 99% effective in preventing illness, hospitalization and death. But they warned that the variants are more contagious and deadly and are bringing more young people to the hospital.

The state’s health department has issued guidelines strongly encouraging high schools that remain open to in-person education to enroll in the state’s rapid coronavirus screening program, which was recently mandated for athletes. teenagers.

Michigan had the worst rate of new Covid-19 cases in the United States on Thursday in the previous two weeks. Associated hospitalizations had more than quadrupled in one month and were 90% of the state’s peak a year ago, leading some hospitals to postpone elective surgeries. The seven-day average of new daily deaths has been increasing for two weeks.

“Because we see so many cases per day, our public health system is overwhelmed,” said Dr Joneigh Khaldun, state medical director. “We are unable to obtain information on many cases, nor to identify their close contacts.”

The governor has resisted reinstating past restrictions such as stay-at-home orders or a ban on indoor meals, in-person instruction and contact sports for young people which have been criticized by the Republican lawmakers. A mask requirement remains, as do capacity limits and caps on collection sizes.

“It’s less of a policy issue that we have and more of a compliance and variations issue that we face as a state,” she said.

But she didn’t rule out future restrictions, saying nothing was out of place.

“At this point, we think it’s important for people to understand how very serious this moment is,” she said.

Whitmer’s recommendation to temporarily close high schools has met with mixed reactions in education circles.

The Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, has urged similar action for lower grades, community colleges and universities. But the Great Lakes Education Project, a group linked to the DeVos family, said children deserve “safe open classrooms.” The superintendents also seemed frustrated.

“Educators have strived to do what is best for the learning and social growth of our students. We have relied on health experts to guide us on the safest way to do it and any changes from that or the expectation that educators alone can make these decisions without the right approach, ”he said. said Robert McCann, executive director of the K-12 Alliance. of Michigan, a coalition of superintendents.

An industry group of restaurants, which are open at 50% capacity, called the governor’s recommendation “misguided.”

Republican lawmakers, who fought the restrictions, said they were encouraged not to tighten them. Despite the surge, House Speaker Jason Wentworth said Whitmer should remove remaining restrictions and “trust the people of this state to do the right thing for themselves and their families.”

The Michigan High School Athletic Association has said it will complete the boys and girls basketball tournaments on Friday and Saturday. The organization said spring sports are all outdoors and the spring season has the fewest contact sports.

“School districts will be making local decisions for the coming weeks on spring sports based on local conditions and circumstances,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl wrote in a memo.

Covid-19 has been linked to nearly 17,500 deaths in Michigan, including 26 added on Friday. More than 577,000 people had recovered last week.

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