‘The Rachel Maddow Show’ aired a ‘local emergency alert’ — but officials say it was fake

TEXAS — During her television show on Tuesday night, MSNBC pundit Rachel Maddow was reporting — accurately — on the fact that coronavirus cases have hit their highest levels across Texas. As one piece of evidence for that claim, Maddow played an emergency alert that she said was sent out to Brewster County residents.

The message, ostensibly sent to Brewster County residents at around 2 p.m. on Sunday, was simple. “Alert,” a computerized voice said. “Stay home. The COVID-19 virus is spreading rapidly across Brewster County.”

It warned listeners about hospital capacity and urged, “Stay home except for essential activities and avoid gatherings of people outside your household.” It concluded: “Stay safe.”

But officials in Brewster County said they didn’t send the message. They aren’t sure how the message ended up on national television, though some Brewster County residents said on social media that they’d received it.

The message wasn’t entirely inaccurate. Coronavirus is rapidly spreading across Brewster County, as evidenced by soaring case counts over the past weeks. And in light of this, many officials across the tri-county have urged people to stay at home — though Governor Greg Abbott’s emergency orders prevent them from requiring people to do so.

But there are other inaccuracies in the message, noted The Big Bend Gazette, which first reported on the incident. Chief among them: the claim that “local hospitals” — plural — “are approaching capacity.”

In fact, the tri-county has just one hospital, the Big Bend Regional Medical Center. And at press time, it had just four hospitalizations and a number of transfers.

Stephanie Elmore, the emergency management coordinator for Brewster County, confirmed in a phone interview Tuesday that the message did not come from Brewster County.

Elmore hadn’t even heard about the message until someone posted it on Facebook, catching the eye of local officials. “We don’t know where it came from,” she said. “We told them it was fake.” Judge Eleazar Cano was not immediately available for comment, but confirmed to The Gazette that the message did not originate from the county.

At first, Elmore was worried that county infrastructure might have been hacked. The county uses a program, Hyper-Reach, to send out notifications in cases of crisis (like a school shooting) or smaller inconveniences (like a power outage).

But after checking, Elmore says the county’s Hyper-Reach program wasn’t hacked. For that reason, she thinks the whole snafu was just misinformation.

“We don’t have any clue” where it came from, Elmore said of the message. “Whoever put it out there, it’s false information.”

A spokesperson for “The Rachel Maddow Show” did not respond to a request for comment by press time.