Fact Check

Is California Separating Children from Parents Who Have COVID-19?

Someone apparently was hell-bent on scaring families with false rumors during the already stressful coronavirus pandemic.

Published May 12, 2020

A letter from California authorities warns that residents who receive state assistance benefits will no longer be eligible for them if they don't get tested for COVID-19; further, if parents test positive, children in their household who test negative will be placed in temporary foster care until their parents/guardians recover.

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In early 2020, a fake letter claiming to be from the California Health and Human Services Agency, Department of Social Services (CDSS), circulated online, spreading false information about the impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus disease on families who receive state benefits.

The above-displayed letter appeared to be composed on official CDSS letterhead and signed by California Health & Human Services Agency Secretary Mark Ghaly. It read in part:

As a participant in state assistance benefits [...] you are being informed that COVID-19 testing is declared mandatory for all members of your household receiving assistance.

[...] Failure to obtain a test by June 1, 2020, will result in the temporary suspension of your benefits beginning July 1, 2020, and continue until such time that testing has been completed.

The letter goes on to state that children with COVID-19 positive parents will be temporarily placed in foster care:

In addition, should you test positive for COVID-19, and in compliance with the State of California Welfare and Institutions Code, The Human Services Agency of Merced County may deem it necessary to remove all children (under the age of 18) from your household who have tested negative, and place them in temporary foster care until such time that you have been determined to be recovered.

This is not true. Adults who test positive for COVID-19 will not be separated from their children (who cannot be sent to foster care over an illness), and recipients of state assistance will not face suspension of their benefits if they fail to get tested. This testing is also not mandatory for recipients of state benefits.

CDSS has stated that this letter is categorically false.

We have become aware of a fake letter containing references to Merced County Human Services Agency that is circulating on social media. It includes the faked signature of a state official. The letter tells clients they must get tested for COVID-19 in order to continue their benefits. It also tells clients that if they test positive, their children will be removed into foster care. The letter asks people to visit a website, as well. The letter, its contents, and the website are fake.

The letter asked residents to sign up online for appointments, but the referenced website leads to Logistics Health Incorporated, a company that provides healthcare services to government and commercial organizations. The company is based in Wisconsin, but the link on the "About LHI" page redirects the visitor to LogisticsHealth, a different website.

CDSS added:

We have alerted the appropriate county authorities for investigation. If you receive this letter, please disregard it. State departments and county human services departments NEVER will ask about your health status in connection to an application for benefits. Similarly, children must be subject to abuse or neglect to enter foster care. Children cannot be put into foster care just because a parent may be ill.

If you have helpful information about the source of the letter, or if anyone has questions or concerns about the authenticity of materials from the Department, please contact us at: (916) 651-8848 or piar@dss.ca.gov.

As such, we rate the contents of this letter as "False."


Lauten-Scrivner, Abbie. "Merced County Scam Alert: COVID-19 Test Not Mandatory to Receive Benefits, Say Officials."    Merced Sun-Star. 11 May 2020.

California Department of Social Services.   "Beware of Fake Letter."

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.

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