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Rumors of martial law fly despite reassurances

NEW YORK (AP) — Millions of Americans have been ordered to stay home. Businesses and schools are shuttered. And National Guard units have been activated in more than half the states.

Yet despite what you may have read in a text message or on social media, there are currently no plans for a national quarantine, let alone martial law. Those National Guard units? They’re busy distributing food and medical supplies.

Rumors of a military-enforced national lockdown have been debunked repeatedly by state and federal authorities who say their recurrence shows just how persistent false claims can be during an emergency, and why it’s vital to find reliable sources of information.

“I hear unfounded rumors about National Guard troops supporting a nationwide quarantine,” said Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau. “Let me be clear: There has been no such discussion.”

More than 4,000 National Guard reservists have been deployed in at least 31 states to help with the response to the virus, according to Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

Their missions vary, though primarily they’re being used to distribute food and supplies.

Unlike other military service members, National Guard members are under the dual control of their states’ governor and the president.

While they can be deployed overseas in combat zones, they also regularly respond to domestic emergencies, such as wildfires or hurricanes.

Authorities say the coronavirus pandemic is similar to those kinds of crises, though on a much larger scale.

“With COVID-19, it’s like we have 54 separate hurricanes in every state, territory and the District of Columbia,” Lengyel said.

As more COVID-19 tests become available, guardsmen in some states are helping at testing sites. That’s the case in Rhode Island and New York, where Guard members are expected to help with traffic control and administrative tasks at the state’s first drive-thru testing site.

Meanwhile, members of the Guard and another military agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, are working to transform the mammoth Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan into a 1,000-bed hospital.

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