In early May 2020, a number of panicked posts about proposed legislation (H.R. 6666, also called the Testing, Reaching, And Contacting Everyone, or TRACE Act) began spreading on social media, including a May 8 2020 video with a massive 2.5 million view count from anti-vaccination conspiracy theorist Rashid Buttar:
That clip was titled “URGENT! Full Disclosure from ‘INSIDE’ – Dr Rashid A Buttar,” and as mentioned, covered the TRACE Act and its purportedly frightening implications. As the high level of engagement suggested, the claims were not limited to Buttar’s Facebook post, with similar claims circulating on Twitter:
Seems legit… House Resolution 6666. TRACE ACT. Covid-related bill passed to allow government to remove members of your household (your kids, spouse, grandparents… you) if suspected sick… get ready for #HR6666 and #FalsePositives to start trending. https://t.co/7SBGSQPCwL
— George Lista 🐾⚽️✍🏼 (@George_Lista) May 9, 2020
Although claims about H.R. 6666 were legion, the biggest and most alarming claims were that the legislation “allowed” the government to enter homes, “force test” their occupants, and subsequently remove children or adults from the home to be put into mandatory quarantine or foster care.
A May 7 2020 blog post made related claims about H.R. 6666. The post, titled “US House Introduces HR 6666 for forced Covid-19 testing in residences by contact tracers,” began (emphasis ours):
On May 1, 2020 the US House introduced H.R. 6666. US House Introduces HR 6666 for forced Covid-19 testing in residences by contact tracers. This bill is intended to:
Authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to award grants to eligible entities to conduct diagnostic testing for COVID-19, and related activities such as contact tracing, through mobile health units and, as necessary, at individuals’ residences, and for other purposes.
This bill, should it become law, will give contact tracers the full legal right to come to your home and demand a test if you are shown to have come across any individual who has tested positive for COVID-19.
If you weren’t aware, your phone is being tracked to determine if you have been in the vicinity of anyone who has tested positive.
Should you test positive for coronavirus, even with the countless false positives being reported, you will be force-quarantined and potentially have your children removed from your home.
[H.R. 6666] will likely end up on President Trump’s desk and become law.
The claims were noticeably similar to the details of a hoax letter falsely attributed to the California Department of Social Services. As the H.R. 6666/TRACE Act claims began spreading, a letter also was circulated in the same circles, which falsely stated that any recipients of CalFresh (food assistance) or MediCal (medical benefits) in the state would be subjected to mandatory testing and possible removal of their children from the home if they tested positive.
The circulation of the two claims together appeared to be coordinated to bolster one another as part of a larger disinformation campaign designed to frighten people and cause general chaos:
As much was evident in shares of posts linking the phony letter with rumors about H.R. 6666 (and the latter’s connection with the number 666, even though as a “Mark of the Beast” type sign it was off by 6,000.) Alongside a photograph of the hoax letter above, a user wrote:
It’s unbelievable how this government is using this situation to control the people. This is HB 6666. And how did it come to be this particular number?
“The second beast of Revelation 13 will cause ‘all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name’ (Revelation 13:16-17).
Others shared Buttar’s video with comments like:
HB 6666. Just look at the numbers and you already know it’sbad!
Also circulating was a petition on petitions.whitehouse.gov, titled “Oppose HR 6666 the TRES Act [sic] Please Act Immediately.” More than 20,000 people signed the petition between May 8 and May 11 2020:
HR 6666 The TRES Act was just proposed in Congress. This Act will allow government officials to enter ANYONE’S HOME and force Test them for COVID-19/ and or antibodies. Then the government officials would have the right to remove children from the home/ remove anyone testing positive from the home, etc. I can’t imagine how removing someone from their home is going to protect anyone. I have a husband with Alzheimer’s Disease. I don’t have Covid19 but if I tested positive who would take care of my husband if I were removed from my home? We must be living in NAZI Germany for such an Act like this to be brought forth in Congress. Please STOP this ASAP.
The petition’s creator misspelled the name of the TRACE Act, and appeared to have based their summary on rumors rather than actually reading the legislation.
On May 1 2020, “H.R.6666 – COVID-19 Testing, Reaching, And Contacting Everyone (TRACE) Act” was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Bobby Rush, a Democrat from Illinois. It began with a short summary of the bill’s purpose:
H. R. 6666
To authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to award grants to eligible entities to conduct diagnostic testing for COVID–19, and related activities such as contact tracing, through mobile health units and, as necessary, at individuals’ residences, and for other purposes.
The legislation was a funding bill to appropriate funds for ongoing COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. Contact tracing is by no means new; it is defined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as a necessary part of fighting a pandemic:
- Contact tracing is part of the process of supporting patients with suspected or confirmed infection.
- In contact tracing, public health staff work with a patient to help them recall everyone with whom they have had close contact during the timeframe while they may have been infectious.
- Public health staff then warn these exposed individuals (contacts) of their potential exposure as rapidly and sensitively as possible.To protect patient privacy, contacts are only informed that they may have been exposed to a patient with the infection. They are not told the identity of the patient who may have exposed them.
- Contacts are provided with education, information, and support to understand their risk, what they should do to separate themselves from others who are not exposed, monitor themselves for illness, and the possibility that they could spread the infection to others even if they themselves do not feel ill.
After co-sponsors of the bill [PDF] were listed, further detail on its purposes appeared. In fact, H.R. 6666 was so concise, its entire text follows:
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the “COVID–19 Testing, Reaching, And Contacting Everyone (TRACE) Act”.
SEC. 2. COVID–19 TESTING AND CONTACT TRACING USING MOBILE HEALTH UNITS.
(a) In General.—The Secretary of Health and Human Services, acting through the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, may award grants to eligible entities to conduct diagnostic testing for COVID–19, to trace and monitor the contacts of infected individuals, and to support the quarantine of such contacts, through—
(1) mobile health units; and
(2) as necessary, testing individuals and providing individuals with services related to testing and quarantine at their residences.
(b) Permissible Uses Of Funds.—A grant recipient under this section may use the grant funds, in support of the activities described in subsection (a)—
(1) to hire, train, compensate, and pay the expenses of individuals; and
(2) to purchase personal protective equipment and other supplies.
(c) Priority.—In selecting grant recipients under this section, the Secretary shall give priority to—
(1) applicants proposing to conduct activities funded under this section in hot spots and medically underserved communities; and
(2) applicants that agree, in hiring individuals to carry out activities funded under this section, to hire residents of the area or community where the activities will primarily occur, with higher priority among applicants described in this paragraph given based on the percentage of individuals to be hired from such area or community.
(d) Distribution.—In selecting grant recipients under this section, the Secretary shall ensure that grants are distributed across urban and rural areas.
(e) Federal Privacy Requirements.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to supersede any Federal privacy or confidentiality requirement, including the regulations promulgated under section 264(c) of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (Public Law 104–191; 110 Stat. 2033) and section 543 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 290dd–2).
(f) Definitions.—In this section:
(1) The term “eligible entity” means—
(A) a Federally qualified health center (as defined in section 1861(aa) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1395x(aa)));
(B) a school-based health clinic;
(C) a disproportionate share hospital (as defined under the applicable State plan under title XIX of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1396 et seq.) pursuant to section 1923(a)(1)(A) of such Act (42 U.S.C. 1396r–4));
(D) an academic medical center;
(E) a nonprofit organization (including any such faith-based organization);
(F) an institution of higher education (as defined in section 101 of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1001));
(G) a high school (as defined in section 8101 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 7801)); or
(H) any other type of entity that is determined by the Secretary to be an eligible entity for purposes of this section.
(2) The term “emergency period” has the meaning given to that term in section 1135(g)(1)(B) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1320b–5(g)(1)(B)).
(3) The term “hot spot” means a geographic area where the rate of infection with the virus that causes COVID–19 exceeds the national average.
(4) The term “medically underserved community” has the meaning given to that term in section 799B of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 295p).
(5) The term “Secretary” means the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
(g) Authorization Of Appropriations.—To carry out this section, there are authorized to be appropriated—
(1) $100,000,000,000 for fiscal year 2020; and
(2) such sums as may be necessary for each of fiscal year 2021 and any subsequent fiscal year during which the emergency period continues.
Simply reading the text of H.R. 6666 (“COVID–19 Testing, Reaching, And Contacting Everyone [TRACE] Act”) demonstrated that the bill did not mandate testing, did not call for the removal of children or adults from homes under any circumstances, and did not authorize anyone to forcibly enter homes to test residents for COVID-19. Its entire purpose was to fund mobile health units and outreach testing, as well as offer financial support for contact tracing and quarantine. The language of the bill placed no conditions private citizens in any way, shape, or form, but instead described allocation of funds in order to allow widespread COVID-19 testing and contact tracing in the first months of a global pandemic.