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Michigan's Dr. Joneigh Khaldun defends athlete mask mandate

Masks are required in football, soccer and volleyball when a 6-foot distance cannot be maintained.

LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer mandated that athletes will be required to wear a mask while practicing or competing if they are unable to maintain 6-foot distance. 

This affects high school athletes participating in sports like football, soccer and volleyball. On Thursday, Michigan's Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun defended this order.

"We understand wearing a mask makes it less comfortable to participate in a sport," she said. Khaldun also explained that there's some data that wearing a mask could "potentially" increase an athlete's respiratory rate.

"But we do not have any proof that someone cannot exercise. And if they can't, quite frankly, maybe they won't be able to participate unfortunately at this time," Khaldun said during Thursday's press briefing. 

RELATED: Whitmer: Face coverings required for football, other sports

On Sept. 3, the MHSAA reinstated the 2020 football season; football teams may begin regular-season games Sept. 18.

Jonah Spates, a senior at Forest Hills Central, said wearing a mask while conditioning for the football season has been difficult. 

"It makes it hard to breathe sometimes," he said. "And putting in your mouth guard and taking it out is super difficult. I don't know how it's going to work but we'll figure it out."

Spates says his team doesn't like the mandate and they hope something changes. 

"I'm happy we're playing, so I'm less concerned about the masks," said FHC Head Coach Tim Rogers. "I think it's uncomfortable for the kids. I think it's going to present some problems for them. But we're happy to be playing football so we're not going to be distracted by the masks." 

On Thursday, the MHSAA issued guidance and clarification on the governor's order, including that there are no provisions for medical waivers, which emphasized Khaldun's statement. 

"This is not an MHSAA regulation, and thus the MHSAA has no legal authority to waive or modify this Executive Order from the Governor’s office," the organization said. 

► See the full guidance from MHSAA here

Watch the full briefing here:

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