News Story

2006 Law Requires Annual State Pandemic Plan ‘Effectiveness’ Reports; It Didn’t Happen

Legislators also didn’t explain how to assess a plan’s effectiveness before the fact

Under a state law adopted in 2006, Michigan public health officials were required to produce a pandemic influenza plan to prepare for an uncontrolled outbreak of the flu or other novel viruses.

Further, the Legislature required state health officials to update the plans each year and report on “an assessment of the plan’s effectiveness and this state’s preparedness for an influenza outbreak.”

Given the extraordinary circumstances arising from the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and the state government’s response to it, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy filed a Freedom of Information request with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. It sought the pandemic plans and effectiveness reports for each of last five years.

In response, the department provided six sets of documents.

One is an undated letter from department Director Elizabeth Hertel, which apparently is an introduction to the 2020 Pandemic Response Plan developed late last year.

Another, dated 2015, is labeled “Pandemic Influenza Base Plan.” The others, from 2012, 2017 and 2019, are described as vaccination plans.

The department did not release any documents about the effectiveness of its plans.

Michael Van Beek, director of research at the Mackinac Center, said none of the documents produced from 2012 or later fulfills the statutory requirement. Ironically, another document, the Michigan Pandemic Influenza Community Health Plan, from 2008, does. Van Beek retrieved that document on his own from state records.

“It looks to me like they did one the next year (after the law was enacted) and then stopped,” he said.

Reflecting on department officials’ apparent lack of effectiveness reports, Van Beek said, “They seem to figure out which (reporting requirements) they can effectively ignore.”

On April 30, Michigan Capitol Confidential asked the department to explain the absence of annual updates and reports on the pandemic plan.

So far, none has been forthcoming.

In the documents it did produce, however, the state repeatedly emphasized that measures to limit the spread of a virus (such as quarantines, limits on public gatherings and the closure of public venues) “should be undertaken voluntarily.”

The authority the department cites as the foundation of its lockdown powers is the Emergency Management Act of 1976. None of the documents mention the sweeping powers Gov. Gretchen Whitmer initially assumed under the Emergency Powers of Governor Act of 1945. That law was later struck down by the Michigan Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

The 2008 Pandemic Influenza Plan, for instance, says that, although “health officer(s) may execute public health order(s),” measures taken to address a pandemic at its apex should include voluntary isolation and quarantine of the sick, and closing schools in the “most severe” circumstances.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.