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Madison Czopek
By Madison Czopek August 31, 2023

Millions weren’t ‘under emergency travel restrictions’ on air quality alert days

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  • After air quality alerts were issued Aug. 20 and Aug. 21 for parts of Indiana and Ohio, news reports included guidelines that encouraged people to avoid driving if possible. Those guidelines were just suggestions; they were not mandatory and did not restrict anyone’s travel.

A video widely shared on Facebook warned about a widespread ban on domestic travel. 

"Something big is happening right now," said the man in the video posted Aug. 21 on Facebook. "We have over a million people right now that are under emergency travel restrictions — emergency travel restrictions, and this is due to poison being released into the air. This is what the federal government is warning right now."

This post was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

Patrick Humphrey made the video, first posted Aug. 20 on YouTube. The content is emblematic of a larger theme on Humphrey’s YouTube channel: He regularly posts videos about alleged emergencies and encourages people to prepare for them. But his claims do not hold up under scrutiny.

Humphrey has 91,000 subscribers, and his videos typically receive thousands of views. He has made other similar claims that PolitiFact has debunked, including one about "massive explosions" and another about an official statement from the White House regarding critical infrastructure.

(Screenshot from YouTube.)

In the Aug. 20 video, Humphrey said officials issued warnings encouraging people not to get fuel, to stay inside and avoid travel. The video’s title claimed 1.2 million people in multiple states were told not to travel because poison was "released in air." 

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About two minutes into the video, Humphrey said, "I’ll tell you what they’re saying it is, but I don’t know if that’s all it is, because I am not feeling good." After three and a half minutes, he mentioned "air action warnings." Nearly four minutes passed before he provided bits of specific information by reading from two articles:

  • An Aug. 18 Yahoo News article about an Aug. 20 ozone air quality alert in southwest Ohio. It provided tips for reducing air pollution, such as "avoid driving if possible" and "mow your lawn in the evening."

  • What appeared to be an Aug. 20 article in the Evansville, Indiana, Courier & Press newspaper about the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s declaration that Aug. 21 would be an air quality alert day in southwestern Indiana because of high ozone levels. The article encouraged people to "drive less" and "avoid refueling your vehicle."

Humphrey also mentioned that part of Colorado was under an air quality alert Aug. 20, but he did not show news reports of specific guidelines issued for that area. 

Neither article mentions a travel ban or says people would be prohibited from moving freely in Ohio or Indiana. We found no other evidence such as news articles or government press releases about travel restrictions in those states. 

The recommendations to "avoid driving" or "drive less" were the only apparent connections to what Humphrey called "travel restrictions." Humphrey even acknowledged the guidelines were nonbinding. 

"It’s not ‘mandatory’ right now, it’s ‘voluntary’ right now," he said, putting air quotes around the words.

We rate the claim that "over a million people right now that are under emergency travel restrictions" because of "poison being released into the air" False.

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Millions weren’t ‘under emergency travel restrictions’ on air quality alert days

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