Several Republican lawmakers have called on Governor Greg Abbott to end the $295 million contract with MTX Group to conduct coronavirus contact tracing in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the virus.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), contact tracing is a process that aims to “follow up with people who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19,” so that those who are most likely to be infected can be isolated and slow the spread of the virus.
DSHS says that participation in the program is completely voluntary.
State Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) and Reps. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington), Valoree Swanson (R-Spring), and Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands) have each sent a letter to Abbott criticizing both the contract with MTX Group and the appropriateness of the contact tracing method in the context of COVID-19.
In his letter, Hall contended that there was a lack of legislative involvement in awarding the contract and raised questions about the controversies surrounding MTX Group.
“How could a company with a questionable performance record have been rigorously vetted in such a short acquisition period?” asked Hall. “How do we expect a company that has only had a few small, 1 to 2 million-dollar contracts manage a nearly $300 million contract that requires rapid mobilization? What proof is there that a company with only a couple hundred employees, located mostly in India, can recruit, train, and manage over 4,000 tracers to do something that has never been attempted on this scale?”
Tinderholt’s letter focused more broadly on making an “about-face” in regards to the lockdown, but he voiced his opposition to contact tracing and the MTX contract, too.
“Though it may be federally funded, every dollar spent by local, state, or the federal government either comes from current taxpayers or the children or grandchildren of taxpayers through debt service,” said Tinderholt. “Therefore, we could have forgone the federal funds, saved taxpayer dollars, and not conducted privacy-infringing tracing.”
In her letter, Swanson brought up the recently surfaced evidence detailed on the Jess Fields Show indicating that the CEO of MTX, Das Nobel, lied on his LinkedIn profile about obtaining a Doctorate of Management, Organizational Development, and Leadership.
“This alone should be grounds to end the contract,” wrote Swanson.
Similarly, Toth noted in his letter that “false representations and false statements,” such as lying about his degree, “allow for a contract’s termination along with any civil or criminal penalties.”
Aside from their concerns with the MTX contract, the lawmakers also expressed their objection to COVID-19 contact tracing more broadly.
Swanson noted that although the DSHS program is voluntary, “The state is asking Texans to identify individuals they have been in contact with and is building a massive, unprecedented database of where people go and with whom they associate. This a tracking program of Orwellian proportions.”
Tinderholt called the program “a gross invasion of personal liberty and privacy,” and said that he was concerned it violates medical privacy regulations such as HIPAA.
Toth also mentioned the possible HIPAA violations, and added that MTX “is not providing secured computers or networks for its contract tracers,” meaning that “information will be sent and received via unsecured personal email servers.”
Hall similarly voiced concerns about privacy and also said that such a program would exacerbate the public fear about the coronavirus, while the “initial projections, that we all reacted to, were grossly wrong.”
“Fear, if unabated, stifles commerce and stifled commerce will restrict the flow of money,” said Hall. “Without growth in commerce and an increase in the flow of money our economy cannot recover. Contact tracing will prolong fear thus restricting economic growth.”
Another aspect of contact tracing that Hall and Swanson criticized is its feasibility since many coronavirus cases are asymptomatic and the virus has already spread widely.
“The data strongly suggest that there are many times as many people with the virus who are asymptomatic than there are people who have tested positive,” said Hall. “Therefore, contact tracing will only identify a very small percentage of those people who can spread the virus.”
“The virus is far too widespread,” said Swanson. “The number of people who have been potentially exposed — those individuals whom the tracers will be calling — is far too vast. Logic would show that individuals could be exposed to the virus again and again, necessitating a perpetual cycle of tracer calls and 14-day quarantines, even if they never get sick.”
Besides Hall, Tinderholt, Swanson, and Toth several other lawmakers have also criticized the MTX contract and coronavirus contact tracing.
The Texas Freedom Caucus issued a similar statement condemning the MTX contract and calling for its cancellation, with comments from Reps. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville), Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler), and Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth).
Other members of the Texas Freedom Caucus include Tinderholt, Swanson, and Toth, as well as Reps. Kyle Biedermann (R-Fredericksburg), Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), Mike Lang (R-Granbury), Matt Shaheen (R-Plano), and Bill Zedler (R-Arlington).
Alongside a few of the members mentioned above, Reps. Cole Hefner (R-Mt. Pleasant) and James White (R-Hillister) also gave their opinions on the Jess Fields Show podcast.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.