Federal guidelines on masking in the case of a nuclear explosion were not changed this week, said a spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday.
The guidelines, posted on the Ready.gov website, were shared widely on social media after Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday said he would raise his country’s nuclear deterrence level, sparking fears that a nuclear conflict could break out amid Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The guidelines include ways to prepare and what to do during a nuclear explosion, recommending COVID-19-related rules such as wearing face masks and social distancing.
“Continue to practice social distancing by wearing a mask and by keeping a distance of at least six feet between yourself and people who not part of your household,” the government guidance said. “If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 9-1-1 and let the operator know if you have, or think you might have, COVID-19,” it added. “If you can, put on a mask before help arrives.”
After the guidance was updated, the recommendation to practice social distancing and wear a face mask was criticized on social media.
“It is not true that the COVID social distancing language was updated in response to the situation with Russia-Ukraine,” FEMA spokeswoman Jaclyn Rothenberg told the outlet. “COVID protocols were originally added in 2020, and pages are now going through reviews to update that language based on new [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance that was just released.”
The change comes as Russia’s defense ministry said its forces would strike targets in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, that were used by Ukraine’s security service and also communications sites. It warned residents near such sites to leave their homes, while giving no information about where in the city of three million people those targets were located.
The West has imposed heavy sanctions on Russia to shut off its economy from the global financial system, pushing companies to halt sales, cut ties and dump tens of billions of dollars’ worth of investments.
After those sanctions were levied, Putin cited those economic penalties for raising his country’s nuclear level.
“Western countries are not only taking unfriendly actions against our country in the economic area. I’m speaking about the illegitimate sanctions that everyone is well aware of. However, the top officials of the leading NATO countries also make aggressive statements against our country as well,” Putin said on Sunday, according to state-run media.
Reuters contributed to this report.