Michigan increases capacity limits at outdoor stadiums despite rise in COVID-19 cases


Comerica Park in Detroit. - STEVE NEAVLING
  • Steve Neavling
  • Comerica Park in Detroit.

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration is raising capacity limits at outdoor stadiums.

Whitmer announced Friday that the state will allow up to 20% capacity at outdoor stadiums and arenas, as long as they establish infection control plans.

For Comerica Park, that means up to 8,200 Tigers fans may attend the home opener on April 1.

The increased capacity comes amid a steep rise in COVID-19 cases in Michigan. The rolling seven-day average for daily coronavirus cases reached 2,491 on Thursday, the highest since late January. Hospitalizations also are on the rise.

“We could potentially be at the beginning of another surge in Michigan,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, acknowledged at a news conference on Friday.

The state also is requiring all Michigan youth athletes to get a COVID-19 antigen test before games and practices. Winter sports are a primary cause of the increase in cases, Khaldun said.

"Due to the many outbreaks linked to sports, this new order requires youth athletes, ages 13 to 19 years old, to take part in a weekly testing program to participate in athletic practices or competitions," Khaldun said. "This is important because we've seen so many outbreaks associated with sports teams, and we want to identify any cases as soon as possible.”

Another likely cause of Michigan’s rising cases is the state’s decision to allow Michigan restaurants to reopen for indoor dining, Dr. Teena Chopra, an infectious-disease specialist and Wayne State University professor, told Metro Times earlier this week. The rise of B.1.1.7., a highly contagious "variant of concern," could also be a factor, as well as vaccination discrepancies in different communities in the state.

Chris Granger, group president of sports and entertainment for Ilitch Holdings Inc., applauded the state’s decision to expand capacity at outdoor stadiums before the start of baseball season.

"We are thrilled to safely welcome back the best fans in baseball to Comerica Park for Opening Day and beyond,” Granger said. “As the season progresses, we look forward to continued coordination with public health and medical experts, government officials and Major League Baseball to ensure a safe and enjoyable environment for all Detroit Tigers fans.”

State health officials said they will closely monitor COVID-19 data.

“This includes case counts, percent positivity and hospitalizations,” Elizabeth Hertel, director of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, said. “We are making this capacity change along with required safety protocols deigned to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.”

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