Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer clears pro sports to resume in state without fans

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer granted permission Thursday for professional sports to return "without a live audience," following Major League Baseball's announcement that players would report to their home ballparks next week for spring training and a 60-game season set to begin in late July.

"Good news, sports fans," Whitmer said in a statement. "We are now ready to gradually and safely allow professional sports to resume in Michigan. While this is an encouraging step in the reopening of our economy, it is critical for athletes to continue social distancing and taking precautions to stay safe."

Under the executive order that Whitmer signed Thursday, professional sports training and competitions can resume as long as the activities are conducted under a safety plan that's consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services guidelines, according to the statement. Participants must also stay 6 feet apart to "the extent compatible with the sport," it states.

The governor's order prohibits spectators except for staff of the facility and working media. The order states that any willful violation would constitute a misdemeanor.

"Governor Whitmer's decisions regarding moving forward within the MI Safe Start Plan, including having fans attend sporting events, are being made based on the best data and experts within public health," according to a statement in response to a question about the future of live audiences. "While the governor understands the urgency to get back to cheering on our teams in-person, every step must be done with safety and public health in mind."

As part of its return-to-play protocol, MLB devised a more than 100-page manual that covers travel, COVID-19 testing, social distancing measures, sanitation of equipment and protection for players, staff and others with whom they may come in contact. A spokeswoman for Whitmer did not immediately answer a question Thursday as to whether the governor had seen MLB's plan.

In the early days of the pandemic, Detroit was considered one of the COVID-19 hot spots, with the city logging an average of about 222 new cases and 40 deaths per day from the end of March through mid-April. With Michigan already under a state of emergency, Whitmer issued a stay-at-home order on March 23. As of Wednesday, Michigan had a total of 62,301 confirmed cases and 5,886 deaths, according to the state's own data. Daily new cases statewide have mostly flattened since the end of May.

On Wednesday, Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila said that one player and one staff member had tested positive for COVID-19; he didn't identify the two people. He said during a videoconference that the player was living in Florida but was not working out at the team's spring training facilities in Lakeland. The Tigers are still set to report to training camp next week in Detroit.