DENVER, CO - August 05: A basketball, Wilson the volleyball and a football, just a few of many things on the Gear Garage at the brand new Halcyon Hotel in Cherry Creek August 05, 2016. Guests of the hotel can check out a vintage film camera, skateboards and long boards, basketballs, electric bikes and many other items. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images) Halcyon Hotel
DENVER, CO - August 05: A basketball, Wilson the volleyball and a football, just a few of many things on the Gear Garage at the brand new Halcyon Hotel in Cherry Creek August 05, 2016. Guests of the hotel can check out a vintage film camera, skateboards and long boards, basketballs, electric bikes and many other items. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Michigan has been extremely cautious with high school sports. The impact on curbing the virus speaks for itself.

PORT HURON, Mich.—The Big Reds of Port Huron High School might be able to take the field again soon, Michigan looking to return to competition by the end of March. 

“I’m so glad that our kids are going to be able to get back into playing the sports that they love,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a February press conference. “It’s also important to remember that as we take this step, we must remain vigilant. At the end of the day, what has been most important throughout this process in making sure our kids can play is that we keep them safe as they do.”

Like many teams in Michigan, The Big Reds did play football a bit in 2020 under some strict pandemic protection guidelines, but their season was stopped early in the year out of concerns over rising coronavirus cases. 

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Limiting the Big Reds and other teams aims to curb the spread of the virus within the community at large. Is it effective? We look to other states to compare. 

Where Athletics Are Community Staples 

Pennsylvania decided to start the 2020-2021 school year with high school sports in full swing, and in September a court ruling allowed for even more attendees at those games. 

Two similar counties—Lackawanna and York—are comparable in demographic and size to St. Clair County, where the Big Reds play. School sports are still ongoing in these Pennsylvania communities. 

But the COVID-19 numbers there are very different. 

At the start of August, St. Clair County showed a two-week average of 10 new confirmed cases a day. By October, just before Michigan’s spike in the fall, that average was up to 12. 

Michigan had strict protections in place for high school athletics during that time. Meanwhile, in the same window, York County in Pennsylvania saw its 14-day average more than double.

Looking to December, where the spike in cases closed down school athletics in Michigan, we see another picture. Lackawanna’s two-week average shot up from 61 to 136 in December. York spiked as high as 466 that month. 

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In that same time, St. Clair County cut its average in half in December, down to 54.

Outbreaks connected to athletics have also been rather commonplace.

The Ohio State University announced Tuesday that it would be suspending its football program due to a marked increase in positive coronavirus tests. In December, the entire University of Huston men’s basketball team tested positive. Back in August, 110 student athletes at a Georgia high school tested positive. 

And the situation in Michigan is ripe for outbreaks to occur in athletics if the return to the pitch isn’t managed carefully. 

School outbreaks have hit the mitten repeatedly throughout the pandemic. In the first week of March alone, Oakland County saw 27 outbreaks in schools. An outbreak at a school in Northville already has student athletes in quarantine. Almost 50 schools statewide reported an outbreak since March 1. That week saw many Michigan schools resuming in-person instruction.

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“When it comes to sports, there is a range of risk levels. At one end, you have activities that are outdoors and people are spaced out. At another level, we have contact sports outdoors, and at another level, you have indoor contact sports,” Michigan Director of Health and Human Services director Robert Gordon said during a press conference in early March. “As you go through those levels, the level of risk increases. We have to think carefully moving through them. So I will leave it where the governor did. Our first priority, and also lower risk than a lot of those activities, is getting the schools open for education.”

The Keystone’s Christina Kristofic contributed to this report.