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Conservative commentator and political activist Candace Owens speaks during a rally at The Ellipse outside of the White House, Oct. 20, 2020 (AP) Conservative commentator and political activist Candace Owens speaks during a rally at The Ellipse outside of the White House, Oct. 20, 2020 (AP)

Conservative commentator and political activist Candace Owens speaks during a rally at The Ellipse outside of the White House, Oct. 20, 2020 (AP)

Gabrielle Settles
By Gabrielle Settles August 20, 2021

The CDC’s not going to put people at high risk of catching COVID-19 into camps

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  • The claim references a CDC document last updated in July 2020 titled “Interim Operational Considerations for Implementing the Shielding Approach to Prevent COVID-19 Infections in Humanitarian Settings.”

  • The document didn’t recommend putting high-risk people into “camps” but explored a method studied in London that aimed to protect people already living in refugee camps and other humanitarian settings who are at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

  • The document’s creation predated emergency approval of COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S.

  • It stated that there was “no empirical evidence” that such an approach would reduce mortality from COVID-19 infections, and it emphasized the method’s inherent challenges and risks.

Conservative media commentator Candace Owens blasted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a tweet, saying that the agency published a document to discuss putting people in camps to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

Owens drew attention to the document by tweeting, "the CDC actually put together a document to discuss putting high risk people into camps to ‘shield’ low risk people from them." She continued, "No — this is not a joke, and yes, every single person who has made a reference to 1930s Germany is vindicated." 

But Owens’ statement mischaracterized the purpose and findings of a CDC document that explored the merits and flaws in one method suggested as a means of stemming COVID-19 transmission in refugee camps and other humanitarian settings. By referencing 1930s Germany, Owens’ tweet gives the impression that the CDC proposed putting people into camps to mitigate the virus. It didn’t. 

CDC spokesperson Kristen Nordlund put it straight — no, there are no camps being put into place to shield high risk people from low risk people, she said. 

In a document titled "Interim Operational Considerations for Implementing the Shielding Approach to Prevent COVID-19 Infections in Humanitarian Settings," which was last updated July 26, 2020 — a few months into the pandemic and months before vaccines became available —  the CDC sought to examine one idea for curbing COVID-19 transmission in places such as refugee camps. 

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Health in Humanitarian Crises Centre in March of 2020 had published a paper about what it called the "shielding approach" as a means of reducing COVID-19 transmission and deaths in "forcibly displaced populations residing in camps or camp-like settings" such as refugee camps. The existing guidance at that point for reducing transmission among the general population involved "mass ‘stay-at-home' orders, social distancing, self-isolation and quarantine" — measures that the paper’s authors noted could be unfeasible or inappropriate in settings where already vulnerable populations are being cared for in group settings.

In its own paper, the CDC sought to interpret and analyze scientific COVID-19 concepts and data, Norlund said. "The purpose of this document is to highlight potential implementation challenges of the shielding approach from CDC’s perspective and guide thinking around implementation in the absence of empirical data," the document said. 

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Under a shielding approach concept, high-risk individuals would have minimal contact with low-risk family members or residents. They would be moved to what was described as "green zones." In a household, that might constitute a separate room or area. In a neighborhood setting, it might be a designated shelter or house. And in a camp setting, it might be a group of shelters like schools or community buildings.

The document highlighted several potential challenges with the approach, including that it could lead to stigmatization, isolation and separation from family members.

"While the premise is based on mitigation strategies used in the United Kingdom, there is no empirical evidence whether this approach will increase, decrease or have no effect on morbidity and mortality during the COVID-19 epidemic in various humanitarian settings," the document said. "This document highlights: a) risks and challenges of implementing this approach, b) need for additional resources in areas with limited or reduced capacity, c) indefinite timeline, and d) possible short-term and long-term adverse consequences."

It continued: "Public health not only focuses on the eradication of disease but addresses the entire spectrum of health and wellbeing. Populations displaced, due to natural disasters or war and conflict are already fragile and have experienced increased mental, physical and/or emotional trauma. While the shielding approach is not meant to be coercive, it may appear forced or be misunderstood in humanitarian settings." 

Our ruling

Owens tweeted that the CDC "put together a document to discuss putting high risk people into camps to ‘shield’ low risk people from them," and she likened it to "1930s Germany."

The CDC did not recommend putting people who are at high-risk for COVID-19 into "camps." It published a document that explored a concept called "shielding" that researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Health in Humanitarian Crises Centre explored as a means to contain COVID-19 spread among people who already live in settings such as refugee camps. The CDC’s analysis of the research highlighted several challenges with the concept and noted that there was "no empirical evidence" regarding whether it would even be effective at curbing COVID-19 deaths.

We rate this claim False.

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The CDC’s not going to put people at high risk of catching COVID-19 into camps

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