University of Michigan Student-Athletes Send Plea to Health Department, “Let Us Compete”

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Student-athletes from the University of Michigan have sent a plea to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and the Washtenaw County Health Department asking for healthy athletes to get a chance to practice and compete.

Under an MDHHS decision Saturday, the University of Michigan Athletic Department will immediately pause all athletic activities, including games, team and individual training sessions, until further notice, a period of up to 14 days.

The letter from student-athletes reads:

“The student-athletes at the University of Michigan recognize the severity of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and have done everything in our control to prevent the spread of the virus to the best of our ability. Recently, five confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 strain have been found in the athletic department, which has triggered a shutdown of all athletic-related activity and the closure of all athletic facilities by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in conjunction with the Washtenaw County Health Department. While we, the student-athletes at the University of Michigan, understand the severity of this virus and take it very seriously, we believe that this mandate from the MDHHS is unnecessary and should not only be reconsidered, but overturned.

“We trust the guidance and leadership of those in charge of the health and safety of Michigan student-athletes. Given the University’s knowledge of the situation surrounding the athletic department, should a total shutdown have been necessary, it should have come from the University of Michigan leaders. Being members of both the Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County communities is something that the student-athletes at the University of Michigan value and cherish. We have done everything to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to the greater community at large, in order to protect those who support us. The student-athletes at the Universiity of Michigan have done their best to create social bubbles in order to limit exposure and have opted in for extensive testing protocols in order to compete in the safest manner possible. The physical and mental health of every Michigan student-athlete is at risk due to the recent mandate set in place.

“Based on the department’s testing policies, placing healthy students in quarantine is unnecessary and excessive. Placing the entirety of student-athletes in a mandated quarantine, instead of working it on a team by team basis, is unfair to the athletes who have followed all protocols necessary to compete and have had no contact with the confirmed cases. These student-athletes have gone above and beyond in order to earn the right to have a season in the midst of a pandemic. We believe that it is simply illogical to mandate a quarantine for the student-athletes given that at this point there are no extra recommended mitigation strategies outside of what athletes have already been in compliance with (masking up, social distancing, inner bubbles, etc.). The student-athletes at the University of Michigan stand united in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and keeping every member of our community safe. We are asking the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to reconsider the blanket shutdown implemented on January 24th, and allow all the student-athletes that are healthy to return to all athletic-related activities.”

The shutdown affects swimming and diving, basketball, hockey, gymnastics, all sports in the midst of their winter seasons.

While UM has worked diligently on testing and reporting according to state and Big Ten Conference guidelines, MDHHS is mandating a more aggressive strategy because the positive tests are for the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant, which exceeds current program efforts designed around the standard form of the virus.

“Canceling competitions is never something we want to do, but with so many unknowns about this variant of COVID-19, we must do everything we can to minimize the spread among student-athletes, coaches, staff, and to the student-athletes at other schools,” said Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel.

The mandate follows positive test results for the SAR-CoV-2 B.1.1.7 variant from several individuals linked to the University of Michigan Athletic Department. The B.1.1.7 variant is thought to be approximately 50 percent more transmissible than the standard form of the virus. Therefore, a pause of all athletic activities and a closure of all UM athletic facilities are being taken to strengthen the public health intervention. Team members (student-athletes, coaches, and team staff) must immediately isolate/quarantine effective Jan. 23 until further notice and up to 14 days (Feb. 7).

The University of Michigan swimming and diving team finished competing over the weekend in a dual meet with Michigan State in what could be the final meeting between the in-state rivals. The Wolverines were set to conclude the regular season February 5 & 6 at home against Ohio State.

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