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Halapoulivaati Vaitai has new daughter, new opportunity with Lions

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — These are scary and trying times.

For many of us, COVID-19 has altered our lives indefinitely as it continues to spread across the country and state. As of Wednesday afternoon, there have been nearly 2,300 confirmed cases and 43 deaths in Michigan. Most of us are staying in our homes, waiting and hoping this pandemic will soon begin to slow. 

New Lions offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai signed a five-year $45 million contract as a free agent.

But some parts of life can't be put on hold and force us into the world. For most that might be a trip to the grocery store, or you're possibly deemed an essential employee, exempt from the state's shelter-in-place order

But imagine if life took you to the hospital. Not because you were sick, but because you were healthy. That's what new Detroit Lions offensive lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai and his wife, Caitlin, had to deal with when welcoming a baby into the world this week in Houston, just days after he signed a five-year $45 million contract as a free agent

The scene, as you might imagine, was surreal. 

"The hospital was pretty strict," Vaitai said. "They wouldn't even allow people that were 18 or younger. My son couldn't go in there. Luckily my in-laws live close to my wife, so they were able to help out. 

"When my wife went into labor, we went to where the lobby is at," Vaitai continued. "There was a table right there and there were a couple doctors and nurses there. They had to screen us every time I came in. They had to give you a new wrist band every time you came in. It was pretty crazy. It was a crazy moment. They basically kept the hospital empty unless you were scheduled or due to an emergency or something. That was a crazy moment. It was empty. I've never heard of a hospital empty."

Fortunately there were no complications. Sophia Vaitai was born on Saturday, a healthy 9 pounds, 3 ounces. Caitlin is also doing well. Now home, the family continues to take extra precautions due to the virus. 

Family friends are being asked to stay away for the time being, limiting interactions to video calls. And even with immediate family, physical contact is being curtailed. 

"Every time people come in our house, make sure you wash your hands with hot water and soap, like five times before you see the baby," Vaitai said. "We kindly ask them you can come near us, but you should wave and whatnot. We don't want to pass the baby around too much, other than my parents and her parents. She's still new. She's about four days (old) now.

"We're going to keep doing that, making sure everybody washes their hands and keep the environment in the house clean."

After a long pause, Vaitai admitted with a nervous chuckle the experience has morphed him into a germophobe. 

When this global crisis is over, and we are able to return to normal life, Vaitai will come to Detroit and join the Lions, where he figures to be the team's new starting right tackle after serving as a versatile backup the past four years in Philadelphia. 

"The last couple years I was able to fill in," Vaitai said, referencing his 20 starts. "I had great guys over there. (Eagles guard Brandon) Brooks always told me, 'You've just got to be patient.' Same as (offensive tackle) Jason Peters. He was always telling me to just be patient. 'You won't get your moment now, but as long as you know how to work and don't lose your work ethic, it'll be great for you.'

"Knowing I can play all positions, it really helped the stock a little bit," Vaitai said. "To be able a part of the Detroit Lions, I think it's the same thing. I have a lot of experience under my belt, across the line, so wherever they need me, I can help the team." 

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers