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National Guard personnel march in formation as they leave duty after working on March 19, 2020, at a state-managed coronavirus drive-through testing site that just opened on Staten Island in New York. (AP) National Guard personnel march in formation as they leave duty after working on March 19, 2020, at a state-managed coronavirus drive-through testing site that just opened on Staten Island in New York. (AP)

National Guard personnel march in formation as they leave duty after working on March 19, 2020, at a state-managed coronavirus drive-through testing site that just opened on Staten Island in New York. (AP)

Daniel Funke
By Daniel Funke March 20, 2020

Chain message is wrong about the National Guard, military and a nationwide quarantine

If Your Time is short

  • There is no evidence that the federal government is set to announce a lockdown. White House officials have repeatedly said it’s not something they’re considering at this time.

  • The National Guard and the military have been dispatched to some areas of the country at the request of states.

  • The chain message misinterprets the Stafford Act, which activates FEMA and authorizes aid for state and local governments.

In the past few days, several state and local governments have taken drastic action to try to contain the spread of the 2019 coronavirus. 

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced March 19 a statewide "shelter in place" order. On March 20, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all nonessential businesses to keep their employees home. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has ordered all restaurants to close except for takeout and delivery.

One popular chain message takes these measures a step further.

"Homeland security is preparing to mobilize the national guard. Preparing to dispatch them across the US with military," reads the message, which claims it was sent by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. "They will also call in 1st responders. They are preparing to announce a nationwide 2 week quarantine for all citizens, All businesses closed."

(Screenshot from iMessage)

A reader sent us the message on March 19. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted a screenshot of a very similar text on March 20.

"Here we go again with the ‘my friend whose dad works in the government’ rumors," he said.

We’ve seen several other chain messages that falsely claim the federal government is set to announce a nationwide quarantine to stem the spread of COVID-19. So we checked this one out, too.

The text contains kernels of truth, but its primary message is bogus. 

There is no evidence that the federal government is set to announce a lockdown like the ones seen in France, Italy and Spain. While the National Guard and the military have been dispatched to some areas of the country hard-hit by the coronavirus, neither the Department of Homeland Security nor FEMA have ordered them to. And the message misinterprets the Stafford Act, a federal disaster relief law that activates FEMA and sends aid to state and local governments.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he is not considering a nationwide quarantine or curfew. He first answered a question about it during a March 16 press conference and reiterated his point in another briefing the following day.

"It’s a very big step. It’s something we talk about, but we haven’t decided to do that," he said.

More recently, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned misinformation about lockdowns during a March 20 press conference.

"Just urge everyone as they’re seeing information — information that at one time suggested that somehow this virus emanated from the United States Army, information about lockdowns that are taking place — every American, indeed people all around the world, should ensure that where they turn to for information is a reliable source and not a bad actor trying to create and flow information that they know is wrong," he said.

RELATED: 7 ways to avoid misinformation during the coronavirus pandemic

One of the first places where officials did mandate a lockdown is New Rochelle, N.Y., where Cuomo ordered a one-mile containment zone on March 10. Large gathering spots were closed for 14 days and National Guard troops are delivering food to people at the request of the state.

In California, nonessential businesses — such as bars, dine-in restaurants and gyms — are closed as part of the statewide lockdown. The state has also asked the U.S. Navy for a hospital ship and two mobile hospitals to help treat COVID-19 patients.

State and local governments retain the power to quarantine Americans within their own borders. On the federal level, the Department of Homeland Security can screen and quarantine individuals reentering the U.S. from other countries. But forced quarantines are historically rare, and most infected people are allowed to self-quarantine.

As for the Stafford Act, Trump invoked the law March 13, thereby authorizing aid for state and local governments grappling with the coronavirus and waiving certain regulations that impede access to health care. The Stafford Act is commonly used during hurricanes and does not necessitate a nationwide lockdown.

The chain message is inaccurate. We rate it False.

If you receive a chain message that you want us to fact-check, send a screenshot to [email protected]

Our Sources

Chain message, March 19, 2020

C-SPAN, "President Trump and Coronavirus Task Force Hold News Conference," March 16, 2020

C-SPAN, President Trump and Coronavirus Task Force Hold News Conference, March 20, 2020

The Guardian, "All Californians ordered to shelter in place as governor estimates more than 25m will get virus," March 19, 2020

The Independent, "Coronavirus: France imposes 15-day lockdown and mobilises 100,000 police to enforce restrictions," March 17, 2020

Los Angeles Times, "Battling coronavirus, California asks Navy for hospital ship and two mobile hospitals," March 18, 2020

Los Angeles Times, "Gov. Newsom orders all Californians to stay home as coronavirus cases top 1,000," March 20, 2020

Military Times, "Here’s the latest National Guard mobilizations by state," March 18, 2020

The New York Times, "Cuomo Orders Tighter Restrictions in New York: Live Updates," March 20, 2020

PolitiFact, "Clarifying what’s accurate, and not, in claims about quarantines," March 16, 2020

PolitiFact, "Fact-checking a chain message about a national quarantine on iMessage, WhatsApp," March 17, 2020

PolitiFact, "Social posts are misinterpreting a federal disaster relief law to push a hoax about a US quarantine," March 17, 2020

Tampa Bay Times, "Coronavirus Florida: Governor orders all restaurants closed except for takeout, delivery service," March 19, 2020

Tweet from Marco Rubio, March 20, 2020

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, "Department of Homeland Security Outlines New Process for Americans Returning from Certain European Countries, China, and Iran," March 13, 2020

The Wall Street Journal, "Italy Hardens Nationwide Quarantine," March 11, 2020

The Washington Post, "Spain, France take drastic measures to fight coronavirus; Georgia delays presidential primary," March 14, 2020

YouTube video from the White House, March 17, 2020

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Chain message is wrong about the National Guard, military and a nationwide quarantine

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