By Jon King /

A local lawmaker has noted the end of the state’s COVID-19 contact tracing program, saying that it was “doomed from the start.”

Republican State Rep. Ann Bollin of Brighton Township said the recent decision by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to discontinue universal individual-level contact tracing was overdue. “It’s just not necessary to waste resources placing hundreds of calls every day to people who might have been exposed days before,” said Bollin. “We’ve been dealing with this virus for nearly two years now, and it’s clear that contact tracing has become a futile effort. It’s time to find a more effective use of time and resources.”

Contact tracing involved identifying people with an infectious disease and alerting others who may have been in contact with that person. It was carried out at both the state and local levels and required numerous employees and volunteers to accomplish the work. However, the delta and omicron surges of the virus overwhelmed those efforts among the general public, prompting state health officials to instead focus contact tracing efforts on congregate settings such as schools, long-term care facilities, and prisons.

However, Bollin, in a release, said that the Whitmer administration “lost the public’s trust in the contact tracing process the second they tried to award a no-bid contract to a political organization with strong ties to the governor’s campaign.”

The no-bid contract in question, which was awarded in April of 2020, prompted a request from Bollin for the Michigan Auditor General’s Office to conduct an inquiry. The report concluded that the only firm that was considered for the contract was Great Lakes Community Engagement (GLCE), which was connected to K2K Consulting and Kolehouse Strategies, political consulting companies owned by Donald M. Kolehouse II. Bollin said the report indicated that Kolehouse had “strong ties to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other Democratic political campaigns.”

Bollin also alleged that one of the reasons the contact tracing effort was not embraced by the public was because people “didn’t want to submit their personal information to a firm that could use it for political purposes.” However, the report from the Auditor General indicated that while the data collected by the effort was owned by the MDHHS, it was only used for public health investigations and that they were “not aware of any data related to COVID cases transferred to any Kolehouse organization.”

Following the revelation that the no-bid contract had been awarded to a political ally of the governor, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services rescinded the deal and put another vendor in charge of the contact tracing program.

Despite the end of the general contract tracing at the state level, Lynn Sutfin, a spokesperson for the MDHHS, told WHMI that it is still important "persons that test positive for COVID-19 isolate and let their close contacts know they may have been exposed. If persons have been exposed, they should quarantine or watch for symptoms (depending on vaccination, recent COVID+ status) and take other recommended steps, even if they don’t receive a call from the health department."

Sutfin added that the decision to redirect public health resources to a focus on outbreak venues and clusters will "position limited resources to have the greatest impact on public health" Sutfin says "MDHHS will also dedicate additional efforts toward a public education campaign related to increasing familiarity with isolation and quarantine, definition of a close contact, how to notify a close contact, what to do if notified of an exposure, when to seek testing, conducting at-home testing and interpreting results, and when to seek medical care/therapeutics."