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Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is urging high schools in the state to voluntarily suspend in-person classes, all youth sports games, and indoor dining and gatherings for two weeks as her state leads the nation in COVID-19 cases. But some organizations are pushing back.

“As we take a hard look at the data and observe the spread of the variance, we all need to go above and beyond the rules we already have in place,” Whitmer said at a Friday news conference. “We all have to step up our game for the next two weeks to bring down rising cases.” 

The restrictions, which she stressed are not mandates, come as cases rise across Michigan, making it the country’s latest virus epicenter. The state reported 7,834 new COVID-19 cases on Friday.

One factor for the surge: a rise in cases for teenagers and children. Since February 19, state data shows that virus cases for children under 10 jumped 230%, which is higher than any age group. Residents aged 10 to 19 saw a 227% increase in infections during the same time period.

“Young people are not impervious to this virus,” Whitmer said.

She advised high schools to temporarily transition to remote classes and for restaurant-goers to eat outside or opt for carryout instead. The governor also pushed for small gatherings to be held outside with all individuals wearing masks, and that all youth sports halt both games and practices for the next two weeks. 

Contact sports in Michigan were allowed to resume on February 8. One month later, individuals aged 13-19 were required to test weekly for COVID-19. 

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on March 31, 2021.

Michigan Office of the Governor via AP

The Michigan Department of Education backed Whitmer’s recommendation to delay sports and called on schools to contribute “toward the common good of our state and the health of our residents.”

However, the Michigan High School Athletics Association said all tournaments will be held as scheduled but individual schools can voluntarily suspend practices and games.

“We will continue to play as safely as possible,” Mark Uyl, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement. “The basketball Finals will conclude all winter sports, as well as finishing all indoor high school sports for the school year. 

As for indoor dining, which reopened in the state on February 1, the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association called Whitmer’s suggestions “misguided” and said the governor was using the restaurant industry as a scapegoat “without proof or reliable data.”

“We trust our operators to continue to provide a safe environment indoors or out in the coming weeks and we trust Michiganders to do their part to act responsibly and respectfully to help us all achieve that outcome,” the association said in a statement

Michigan schools were initially urged to reopen in-person classes by March 1 but the state’s Department of Education said they support Whitmer’s suggestions and called on schools to voluntarily suspend in-person classes.

“Michigan educators, students, and families have risen to the challenge over the past year, and I am confident they will continue to do what is needed to help save lives as we keep fighting the pandemic,” State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice said in a statement.

At the news conference, Whitmer called on all residents to take her recommendations seriously and to continue following existing COVID-19 protocols like getting vaccinated, wearing a face mask and social distancing. 

“This has to be a team effort,” Whitmer said. “We have to do this together. Lives depend on it. We have to fight back against COVID-19 variants.”

Max Bayer contributed reporting.