As tensions continue to heat up between NATO and Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. federal government is not ignorant of the prospect of nuclear war, which is once again emerging in the public consciousness for the first time since the end of the Cold War in 1989.
While Russian President Vladimir Putin places the country’s nuclear forces on high alert, many on social media noticed that the United States’ Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had a nuclear readiness document advising Americans to remember to practice social distancing and masking in the event that they find themselves taking cover together in a nuclear-resistant bunker.
The document was widely mocked online, particularly by Donald Trump Jr. as an example that “these are not serious people.”
“You literally can’t make this stuff up anymore,” he wrote on Instagram. “Our government wants us to make sure we socially distance in the event of nuclear war because obviously you’re worried about dying of COVID and not nuclear fallout. These are not serious people they are imbeciles.”
The document went viral after popular Twitter meme account “Libs of TikTok” noticed that it was updated on February 25, which was around the same time conversation around the possibility of nuclear war emerged on social media.
As highlighted by Libs of TikTok, the document encourages anyone sick or injured to inform emergency services if they have, or think they might have COVID-19. “If you can, put on a mask before help arrives,” the document advises.
“Many people already feel fear and anxiety about coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). The threat of a nuclear explosion can add additional stress,” the document states in the same section.
The guidelines for what to do in the case of a nuclear war and sheltering from radiation exposure include the following lines: “Try to maintain a distance of at least six feet between yourself and people who are not part of your household. If possible, wear a mask if you’re sheltering with people who are not a part of your household.”
FEMA denied that it responded to the nuclear escalation by adding the advice for Americans facing nuclear attack, stating that the recommendations were put in its official guidelines under the Biden administration in 2020.
“It is not true that the COVID social distancing language was updated in response to the situation with Russia-Ukraine,” FEMA spokeswoman Jaclyn Rothenberg said in a statement to the press. “COVID protocols were originally added in 2020, and pages are now going through reviews to update that language based on new CDC guidance that was just released.”
FEMA said that the updates made last Friday were to fix broken links, and that it had not added any new language to that page.
“The change made to the Ready.gov page on 2/25 was to remove a link that previously existed but is now broken www.remm.nlm.gov,” the FEMA spokeswoman said.
“That page was migrated to an hhs.gov site: Nuclear Detonation: Weapons, Improvised Nuclear Devices - Radiation Emergency Medical Management (hhs.gov) but the link was probably removed by the contractor as they were going through a sweep for broken links across the site and fixing them. That’s a routine procedure.”