March 18, 2020 / 9:20 PM / 15 days ago

False claim: A text says Trump to declare mandatory quarantine under the Stafford Act

A widely shared claim that started circulating through text messages and social media said President Donald Trump would allegedly order a two-week mandatory nationwide quarantine through the Stafford Act within 48 to 72 hours. The claim also encourages people to “stock up” on supplies and invites users to resend the message with their community. Many of the texts say the information was shared by “military friends” in Washington D.C. ( here , here ).   

Most of the posts on social media featured a screenshot of a text message or plain text that reads: 

“Please be advised, within 48 to 72 hours the president will evoke what is called the Stafford Act. Just got off the phone with some of my military friends up in DC who just got out of a two hour briefing. The President will order a two week mandatory quarantine for the nation. Stock up on whatever you guys need to make supply of everything. Please forward to your network. Note: my military friend just sent me the above text.”  

This claim is false. On March 15, 2020 the National Security Council (NSC) confirmed on Twitter that these “text message rumors of a national quarantine” are fake( here ). President Trump did invoke the so-called Stafford Act. However, this law has nothing to do with mandating a quarantine but instead allows for the unlocking of federal funding for disaster relief.  

Trump invoked the Stafford Act at least two days before the fake text message started circulating, when declaring the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency on March 13, 2020 ( here ).  

The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act empowers the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist state and local governments during “natural catastrophes” and coordinate the nation’s response. FEMA controls more than $40 billion in federal funding for disaster relief, that could be used to help build medical facilities and transport patients, among other measures.  

FEMA is commonly associated with natural disaster responses but the agency can also address pandemics ( here ). 

Trump has invoked the Stafford Act at various times during his presidency, approving major disaster declarations to address flooding in the Midwest and wildfires in California, among other events. In 2000, former President Bill Clinton used it to pay for mosquito control efforts to address outbreaks of the West Nile virus in New Jersey and New York. 

The Federal Government, through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has the authority “to take measures to prevent the entry and spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the United States and between states”, but these measures have previously been directed to individuals and small groups. ( here ) The CDC gives an example of a quarantine order given to a person suspected of being infected with or having been exposed to COVID-19  here . The CDC also reports that “If a quarantinable disease is suspected or identified, CDC may issue a federal isolation or quarantine order” but that a federal quarantine is rare. A large-scale isolation was last enforced during the “Spanish Flu” pandemic in 1918-1919. (here). 

The CDC also reports that “If a quarantinable disease is suspected or identified, CDC may issue a federal isolation or quarantine order” but that a federal quarantine is rare. A large-scale isolation was last enforced during the “Spanish Flu” pandemic in 1918-1919. ( here ). 

President Donald Trump has recently announced new guidelines from his coronavirus task force. On March 16, 2020 Trump urged Americans to halt most social activities for 15 days and not congregate in groups larger than 10 people. He also said people should avoid discretionary travel and going to bars, restaurants, food courts or gyms ( here ).  

VERDICT

False: The Stafford Act recently invoked by Trump unlocks emergency response funds, it is not to mandate a nationwide quarantine

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact checking work  here .

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