Facebook posts, evidently intended as a prank, erroneously claim that the government — or specific states such as Michigan or Florida — has mandated that employers and schools close for two weeks in response to the coronavirus. No such announcement has been made.
Complete with “BREAKING NEWS” graphics, viral Facebook text posts are spreading a falsehood about a government mandate requiring workplaces and schools to close in order to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The posts are apparently intended to be part of a joke, though users have to click the link at the bottom to get the punchline.
“The Government have announced measures that all workplaces with 10 employees or more are to have paid mandatory leave to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus starting from March 6, 2020,” the posts read. “All schools are to close for 2 weeks also from March 6th … Offices will resume after 2 weeks of the mandatory closure. A list of all schools and businesses in your area is shown on the list.”
The link to the “full article” included in the post, however, is actually a link for a photo of a gorilla giving the middle finger.
A different iteration of the same claim attributed the announcement to CNN and listed the start date of the closings as March 9. Others switched out the vague “government” reference to make the claim specific to Michigan, Florida, Alabama and other states.
Some commenters expressed an understanding of the joke, but the viral posts — amid a steady flow of coronavirus-related misinformation — nevertheless stand to mislead Facebook users as the U.S. grapples with the coronavirus.
We could find no evidence of the federal government or any state announcing any such requirements thus far. Some schools — including in Washington, Oregon and Rhode Island — were prompted to temporarily close due to the coronavirus, but not because of statewide mandates. And the U.S. Department of Education’s current interim guidance for schools does not call for mandatory two-week closings; it encourages schools to make decisions with local officials, noting that dismissals “may be recommended for 14 days, or possibly longer if advised by local health officials.”
At least some of the states referenced in the posts, including Michigan and Alabama, had no confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus as of March 5, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — though that could change as the outbreak unfolds.
Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, confirmed in an email to FactCheck.org that there is “not a recommendation in Michigan that schools or businesses close at this time.” She added that the state’s information and recommendations regarding the virus can be found at michigan.gov/coronavirus.
Many states, including Alabama and Florida, have set up similar pages for state-specific information related to the new coronavirus.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.
“2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).” Florida Department of Health. Accessed 5 Mar 2020.
“Coronavirus.” State of Michigan. Accessed 5 Mar 2020.
“Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).” Alabama Department of Public Health. Accessed 5 Mar 2020.
“Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the U.S.” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 5 Mar 2020.
“Interim Guidance for Administrators of US Childcare Programs and K-12 Schools to Plan, Prepare, and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).” U.S. Department of Education. Accessed 5 Mar 2020.
Ortiz, Erik. “Coronavirus prompts a dozen schools in Washington state to close, others weigh options.” NBC News. 2 Mar 2020.
Sutfin, Lynn. Spokeswoman, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Email to FactCheck.org. 5 Mar 2020.