Some right-wing commentators are warning that the White House and Democrats around the country are plotting another round of stay-at-home orders and business closures, public-health measures that devastated the economy and divided the nation in 2020, even as they slowed the spread of COVID-19.
But they’re basing these claims largely on innuendo and conjecture rather than facts.
“White House chatter is that lockdowns for delta variant all but a done deal,” conservative commentator Jack Posobiec wrote on Twitter July 29. “Virtually all blue states are cooperating with WH/CDC. They’re aiming for late 2nd week of August, per WH official.”
A few days later, conservative host Dan Bongino said on his podcast, “they want to lock it down again. … The libs will never let coronavirus panic go.”
The claims from Bongino and Posobiec appeared to hinge on White House statements that the administration would listen to guidance from health officials in developing its response to the delta variant outbreak. A Fox News article on those statements was headlined: “White House won’t rule out future lockdowns, school closures if CDC says so.”
But in each case, the claims left out what the White House has affirmatively said on the matter: that it’s doing what it can to promote vaccination and mask-wearing in areas affected by the delta variant, to avoid the need for the lockdowns, shutdowns or school closures.
“We are not going back to that,” President Joe Biden said in a July 27 statement.
Since then, Biden has repeatedly spoken against lockdowns and instead emphasized vaccination to stem the rise of the delta variant. And we found no evidence for Posobiec’s claim that any such measures are being coordinated with, or advocated by, Democratic governors.
Biden has an incentive to avoid another round of lockdowns, which would imperil the country’s fragile economic recovery.
“Our economy has come a long way over the last six months,” Biden said in remarks in July about his legislative agenda, including for infrastructure. “We can’t slow down now.”
White House says it’s listening to experts, but against lockdowns
The Fox News report was based on a back and forth during a press briefing between reporter Peter Doocy and White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre.
Doocy: “So, President Biden says that we are not returning to lockdowns, shutdowns and school closures, but he also once said that we didn’t have to wear masks anymore once we were vaccinated. So why should Americans trust him now?”
Jean-Pierre: “We listen to the scientists; we listen to the expert(s).”
Doocy: “If scientists come to you at some point down the line and say, ‘It is our opinion that there should be shutdowns and there should be school closures,’ you would do that?”
Jean-Pierre replied: “We listen to the CDC” and expert guidance. She also said that Biden wants all schools to reopen.
Posobiec’s post, in which he called lockdowns “all but a done deal,” appeared that same day.
The next day, Jean-Pierre was asked by a reporter whether there are “conversations in the White House, or between the White House and scientific advisers, about more lockdowns, partial lockdowns, or anything along those lines?”
The United States has the tools to fight the variant, she said, and “we are not going to head towards a lockdown.”
Bongino’s report cited a different White House statement. He played a clip of White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s Aug. 2 briefing when she was asked about the potential for more guidelines on COVID-19. Here’s what she said:
The president is keeping the option open of making sure that the CDC and our public health officials can make recommendations on what’s needed to keep the American people safe. I’m not in a position to preview that or to get ahead of any decisions they may make.
We’ve been clear we’re not going back to the shutdowns of March of 2020. We are not going back to the economy shutting down. We’ve made too much progress. Too many people are vaccinated. There’s been too much progress on the economic front. But, again, he has said from the beginning that we’re going to be guided by the science, guided by our public health experts, and we’re not going to take options off the table of what they may recommend.
Bongino called Psaki a flip-flopper. “They want to lock it down again,” Bongino said. “Why? Because they need an excuse to bankrupt you to have you more dependent on government.”
Statements by Biden and administration officials against a lockdown
When Biden announced new rules July 29 to push more federal workers to get vaccinated, he said: “We have the tools to prevent this new wave of COVID from shutting down our businesses, our schools, our society, as we saw happen last year.”
To be clear, a shutdown in which there are widespread closures of businesses or public facilities is a more severe step than guidelines, such as the CDC’s recommendations on wearing masks in schools. When Biden was asked July 30, “Should Americans expect more guidelines coming up, more restrictions because of COVID?” he replied: “In all probability.”
Federal health officials have also dismissed the idea that lockdowns will be needed.
“I don’t think we’re going to see lockdowns,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, said on ABC’s “This Week” Aug. 1. “I think we have enough of the percentage of people in the country, not enough to crush the outbreak, but I believe enough to not allow us to get into the situation we were in last winter,” Fauci said.
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told “Good Morning America” Aug. 2: “We want to avoid lockdowns at all costs. But that means we’re going to have to do some other things that won’t necessarily be welcomed by people, such as the new recommendation of wearing masks in indoor gatherings, even if you’re vaccinated.”
Democratic governors say they’re working to avoid shutdowns
Some Democratic governors say they’re leaving their options open, but pushing vaccination to avoid any need for shutdowns.
“I am not here to announce capacity limits or closures or anything like that,” Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak said Aug. 5. “In fact, everything we are currently doing is aimed at preventing just those scenarios.”
At a press briefing, a reporter asked North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper whether he would consider bringing back limits on nursing home visits, mask mandates and business shutdowns if vaccination rates lag.
“The health and safety of North Carolinians remains the primary objective here, so all options are on the table,” Cooper said Aug. 4. “But we really believe people now know what to do to protect themselves and other people and our primary focus is going to be on vaccinations. … We don’t want to do those other things if we don’t have to.”
Cooper spokesperson Ford Porter told PolitiFact that a stay-at-home order and business restrictions “are not currently under consideration.”
Bobby Leddy, a spokesperson for Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, told PolitiFact that even some less restrictive rules aren’t being discussed. “There are no plans for statewide mask requirements, gathering limitations or vaccination verification,” Leddy said.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed an executive order Aug. 10 limiting social gatherings to no more than 10 people indoors and no more than 25 outdoors. But Ige did not call for a widespread lockdown.
Michael Fraser, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said he hasn’t heard about states moving toward stay-at-home orders.
“As someone who works with all state health officials nationwide, I can unequivocally share that no one is planning a return to stay-at-home orders at this time or in the near future,” Fraser said. “That being said, we all need to get this variant under control and if things get worse, I am sure some folks will want to discuss putting all mitigation strategies back on the table.”
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker cautioned against ruling out any mitigation options. “There were people last summer who thought we should rule out a potential additional mitigation and you saw what happened in September, October, November, December,” he said in an interview with Fox 32 Chicago aired July 20. “I mean it was worse than it was in April and May.”
Still, asked a week later about business owners concerned about the prospect of a shutdown, Pritzker said his focus was on mask use and getting people vaccinated.
“Barring the introduction of a new variant that requires a change of course, the state is not looking to implement past mitigation measures when there is an effective vaccine available,” Pritzker spokesperson Jordan Abudayyeh told PolitiFact.
Posobiec said the White House plans to call for lockdowns to curb the spread of the delta variant.
We found no evidence of that. The Biden administration has said it’s listening to guidance from public health officials, but emphasizing vaccinations and mask-wearing to avoid the need for lockdowns or school closures. Biden has repeatedly said that between vaccines and masks, the U.S. has the tools to combat this wave without resorting to shutdowns. We rate this claim False.
Kiannah Sepeda-Miller of PolitiFact Illinois and Paul Specht of PolitiFact North Carolina contributed reporting to this fact-check.
This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for this fact check here and more of PolitiFact’s fact checks here.