Amid growing concerns over the spread of novel coronavirus strain COVID-19 in mid-March 2020 and lack of information from the United States government, corrosive and weaponized disinformation thrived in the form of chain emails, Facebook posts, and text messages. There were different versions of one such message, but they all essentially went like this:
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 sure you have a two week supply of everything. Please forward to your network.
Sometimes the “friends” the person issuing the message had just spoken to were from the military; other times they were from the Department of Defense; sometimes those purported friends were from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sometimes FEMA, and sometimes the CIA.
At any rate, no matter who the “friends” were supposedly from, they did not exist, because this rumor is a hoax. United States President Donald Trump already invoked (not evoked) the Stafford Act as of March 13 2020:
Therefore, as an initial step, I hereby determine, under section 501(b) of the Stafford Act, that an emergency exists nationwide.
In accordance with this determination, the Federal Emergency Management Agency may provide, as appropriate, assistance pursuant to section 502 and 503 of the Stafford Act for emergency protective measures not authorized under other Federal statutes. Administrator Gaynor shall coordinate and direct other Federal agencies in providing needed assistance under the Stafford Act, subject to the Department of Health and Human Services’ role as the lead Federal agency for the Federal Government’s response to COVID-19.
In order to meet the challenges caused by this emergency pandemic, I have encouraged all State and local governments to activate their Emergency Operations Centers and to review their emergency preparedness plans. In the meantime, I expect FEMA to continue to review all ways in which it can provide assistance to States consistent with the authorities provided to it by this letter and by statute.
I am also instructing Secretary Mnuchin to provide relief from tax deadlines to Americans who have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 emergency, as appropriate, pursuant to 26 U.S.C. 7508A(a).
In addition, after careful consideration, I believe that the disaster is of such severity and magnitude nationwide that requests for a declaration of a major disaster as set forth in section 401(a) of the Stafford Act may be appropriate.
I encourage all governors and tribal leaders to consider requesting Federal assistance under this provision of the Stafford Act, pursuant to the statutory criteria. I stand ready to expeditiously consider any such request.
The Stafford Act authorizes the delivery of federal technical, financial, logistical, and other assistance to states and localities during declared major disasters or emergencies.2 The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) coordinates administration of disaster relief resources and assistance to states. Federal assistance is provided under the Stafford Act if an event is beyond the combined response capabilities of state and local governments.
Even the National Security Council debunked the rumor in a tweet:
— NSC (@WHNSC) March 16, 2020
It is unclear what the coming days may bring and whether the United States might follow the examples of various other countries on mandatory national lockdowns — but if it does happen, it will not be by way of the Stafford Act, and you will almost certainly not find out about it from a viral message purportedly from a friend of a friend of a friend on WhatsApp or Facebook, or via a forwarded text message or email.