Despite rising cases and hospitalizations in Michigan, the state health department is cutting 67 positions related to contact tracing of COVID-19 cases.
On July 1, the state is ending its contract with the nonprofit Michigan Public Health Institute and its contact tracing unit stationed in Okemos, according to a federal worker adjustment and retraining notification filed with the State. MPHI investigators supplemented contact tracing work done by local health departments, Lynn Sutfin, public information officer for MDHHS, told Crain’s in an email.
Detailed in the WARN notice, the positions of 44 case investigators, eight contact tracers, three program assistants, seven senior case investigators, three senior contract tracers and two unit managers will be cut.
The move aligns with the state’s transition earlier this year to target and track clusters and outbreaks in vulnerable populations, such as schools, prisons and long-term care facilities, instead of the entire population of those who have contracted COVID-19.
“This shift in public health resources toward a focus on outbreak locations and clusters positions limited resources to have the greatest public health impact,” Sutfin said.
On Wednesday, the state reported 27,705 new cases of the novel coronavirus in the previous seven days, up more than 637% since April 6. However, it is nearly impossible to know how many cases are actually occurring due to the widespread use of home testing. Not everyone who tests positive, especially with mild symptoms, reports their case to local health departments.
Hospitalizations are also on the rise, up 87% since April 27 to 965 on Monday. Hospitalizations have jumped 10% since Friday, but they are far from the pandemic peak of 4,579 in January.
The latest spike in cases is due to a subvariant of the omicron variant, which burned up in Michigan in December and January, according to health experts.
The latest variant, BA.2.12.1, is believed to be 30% more infectious than the previous BA.2 subvariant. As of last week, BA.2.12.1 accounted for more than 42% of cases in the United States and is expected to become the new dominant strain.
The MPHI has come under intense scrutiny in recent years after the state used the institute to secure a nearly $200,000 contract for COVID-19 contact tracing with Great Lakes Community Engagement, a company run by longtime campaign consultant for the Democrats, Mike Kolehouse.
The controversy led to the resignation of MDHHS leader Robert Gordon.
Republicans have accused Governor Gretchen Whitmer and her team of using the nonprofit to shield themselves from scrutiny.
Sutfin said local health departments will continue contact tracing work, as they have done throughout the pandemic, and the state will focus on using the Patient Education Genius software platform. (PEG) which sends informative text messages to those who report a COVID-19 infection. .