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Covid-19 conspiracy theories not among reasons given for test refusal in Victoria

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Victorias health minister, Jenny Mikakos, on Friday blamed belief in conspiracy theories for some 10,000 people declining Covid-19 testing across 36 hotspot suburbs in lockdown, despite the states health department saying no one in its comprehensive team of door-knockers offering tests had come across a member of the public who cited a conspiracy theory before test refusal.

Rather, a spokeswoman from the health department told Guardian Australia on Friday: People have declined a test for reasons such as not wanting to do nasal swabs and showing a preference for saliva testing, and language barriers which our massive team of door-knockers try to overcome. Guardian Australia had specifically asked the department if conspiracy theories were a reason people had declined the non-compulsory tests.

Door-knockers have been doing either testing, community education or both, the department spokeswoman said.

The response contradicted comments from Mikakos on Friday that belief in conspiracy theories was among the range of reasons for test refusal.

We are analysing that data to see exactly why people are refusing, but it is concerning that some people believe that coronavirus is a conspiracy or that it wont impact on them, so what I want to stress here is that coronavirus is a very contagious virus, she said. It can go through your family very quickly, it can affect your neighbours, your loved ones, and your entire community. So for those individuals in those communities who have not yet been tested, we are urging them to get tested as quickly as possible.

Guardian Australia has contacted Mikakos for comment.

The comments followed 65 new cases being announced in Victoria on Friday and 108 on Saturday after 17 days of double-digit growth, with a continuing and concerning number of new cases associated with transmission in households and families. Public health workers and legal experts have expressed concern that members of the community in hotspot suburbs may be unfairly criticised by people in non-lockdown suburbs, or overly targeted by police who are patrolling areas under lockdown to ensure people only leave for legitimate reasons.

Adding to confusion for residents in hotspot suburbs are mixed messages about who requires a test. While the government has said anyone in a hotspot suburb under lockdown can receive a free test even if they have no symptoms, a video seen by Guardian Australia shows two door-to-door workers who appear to be from the department of health tell a family they do not need to be tested as they are not symptomatic.

The video, taken on 29 June during the blitz, shows the two men, dressed in orange department of health vests and purple lanyards visiting a home in the hotspot suburb of Keilor Downs.

The tests are going on in the [nearby] avenue if you have any symptoms or anything? the workers told a resident of the home. When the resident replied that no one in his home had symptoms, the public health worker replied: Oh, thats all right. The other public health worker mentioned a kit that would allow the resident and their family to be tested at home, but the first worker cut him off and said, No, its all right. If you dont have any symptoms, its fine.

The resident replied: We dont have any symptoms but we can get tested, but was still not given a test kit. The first worker told him: Please make sure you maintain inside please, before the pair left. The interaction lasted about 30 seconds. The resident, Dave, who asked Guardian Australia not to include his last name, said he was concerned this interaction would be counted in the test refusal figures.

Theres no clarity right now so we dont know, Dave said. We dont know whats being counted in refusal, whats being miscounted … There is no detail behind what anybodys saying so I cant tell. He said that after the interaction he took his family to be tested despite being told it wasnt necessary.

[The workers] were fairly confused, they didnt understand what I needed to do, what I didnt need to do … I mean I can see why it might be inconsistent for people who dont speak English, as well as elderly folk.

The department of health and the premiers office declined to comment on the video or if the interaction would be counted as a refusal, but a spokeswoman for the premier confirmed that every household visited during the blitz should have been told to get tested.

Anyone living in the restricted postcodes is encouraged to get tested for coronavirus regardless of whether they have symptoms, she said.

All staff working on our suburban testing blitz are briefed ahead of their shift to ensure they can provide advice to residents about symptoms, hygiene and current restrictions, as well as how they can get tested.

Team members are a combination of department of health personnel, trained public health staff, and newly recruited staff. Since the blitz started last Thursday, more than 150,000 samples have been collected across the state and more than 94,900 doors have been knocked on.

While there has been misinformation spread via text messages and on social media, the department of health and premiers office have provided no detail about whether locked-down communities have been more likely to believe these conspiracy theories. This is despite Victorias chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, saying on 24 June that conspiracy theories may be partially responsible for the Victorian spike.

A woman named Ann contacted Guardian Australia to say she had received a text message that purported to be a police bulletin. The text warned against answering the door to door-knockers. It read: People are going door to door handing out masks, they say its a new initiative from local government. They will always ask you to please put it on to see if it fits you.

It has been doused with chemicals which knocks you out cold and once youre knocked out they proceed to rob you. Please do not accept masks from strangers. Remember, we are living in critical times and people are desperate to take advantage with the aim of making money. Crime rate has skyrocketed, so please be cautious and play safe!

Please send to all your friends, colleagues and loved ones so as to help them stay vigilant in this adverse situation. A spokesman for Victoria police said the message had also been widely circulating on social media for some months, long before the lockdown.

Meanwhile, Sarah Carter, the mayor of Maribyrnong city council, which contains suburbs among the hotspots, blamed entitlement on people declining to be tested.

It makes me feel incredibly angry, she told Channel Nine on Wednesday. I just think its the height of entitlement, to be honest, not to take the test, and I would urge everyone in our community, when asked, to take that test.

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Sanders and Schumer call on McConnell to hold hearings to fight election conspiracy theories – KTVZ

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Sanders and Schumer call on McConnell to hold hearings to fight election conspiracy theories - KTVZ

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Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York are calling on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to create a new bipartisan committee focused on election integrity and schedule hearings to reassure Americans over a process President Donald Trump has repeatedly sought to undermine.

There is growing anxiety among Democrats, and some Republicans, that Trump will not only continue to sow doubt over the legitimacy of the coming election but throw the subsequent count into chaos by declaring victory before all the votes can be tallied, including the millions that will arrive by mail.

In a letter to McConnell, Sanders and Schumer quote back the Kentucky senator’s own words, in which he attested to the reliability of mail-in voting by citing its successes in Oregon, Washington and Colorado, which have been using the system for years.

Trump has repeatedly questioned the validity of mail-in voting, promoted conspiracy theories questioning election security, called on supporters to act as unsanctioned “poll watchers,” and suggested that the absence of a clear result by the evening of November 3 would in some way cast doubt on the eventual outcome. Key allies in powerful positions, like Attorney General Bill Barr, have followed suit. Barr has persisted in puffing up a debunked claim that ballots received by mail would somehow strip the sender of their privacy — ignoring well-established safeguards.

By escalating the matter now, Sanders and Schumer are responding to growing concern, in partisan and nonpartisan spaces, that Americans are not adequately prepared for the potential of a longer-than-usual wait for results or Trump’s willingness to short-circuit the democratic process if he smells defeat.

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress must come together to ensure that we have a free and fair election where every vote is cast and counted without intimidation,” Sanders told CNN, “where no one has to put his or her health in danger to cast a ballot, and where we have full confidence in the results.”

The proposed hearings would invite a cross-section of election officials from across the country to testify to the security and reliability of mail-in, early- and in-person voting — subjects on which Sanders and Schumer, again, referenced McConnell’s own words.

“Despite the clear security of our vote-by-mail system, some have continued to undermine it with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud,” they wrote. “As you have correctly said, people ‘can vote early, you can vote on Election Day, or you can drop it in the mail,’ and that voters should ‘not worry about your vote not counting.’”

The minority leader and Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also want more detailed discussion about the fraught hours, or days, after the polls close and a real-time watch of the election horse race potentially swings from one candidate to another.

“We know a number of states may well be counting ballots for a period of time after Election Day, and that those votes may be determinative in this election,” the senators wrote to McConnell. “To avoid disinformation, conspiracy theories, and suspicion about results, we must understand the likely timeline for this process.”

The letter goes on to reference the recent war games-style preparations conducted by a group called the Transition Integrity Project, a bipartisan gathering of operatives and academics that made headlines when some of the outcomes of their exercises — including “both street-level violence and political impasse” — were reported on in late July.

“A bipartisan group of experts and officials have studied multiple scenarios where the outcome of the election was not immediately known. Some of these scenarios resulted in unrest and even violence,” Sanders and Schumer wrote, suggesting the Senate should elevate similar discussions and familiarize the public with the uncertainties ahead. “We would like to hear from the most knowledgeable people in the country as to how we can do everything possible to make sure that the election and the period afterward is secure and peaceful.”

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HHS official sorry for conspiracy theory video

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HHS official sorry for conspiracy theory video

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HHS supported Caputo, with a statement that called him a critical, integral part of the presidents coronavirus response, leading on public messaging as Americans need public health information to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.

There was no immediate statement from the White House.

Attempts to reach Caputo were unsuccessful.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called on Azar to fire Caputo, accusing the spokesman of trying to interfere with CDC reports to the medical and scientific community, as well as the public at large. And Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Azar himself to resign, citing interference with the CDC as one example of what he termed the administration’s failures.

Officials at CDC have privately complained of recent efforts by political appointees at main HHS to try to edit or press for changes in the agency’s weekly MMWR publications, a go-to resource for public health professionals.

MMWR articles are technical, but they reveal telling details. One published earlier this year noted that while Trump’s travel restrictions dramatically reduced travel from China in February, nothing was being done at that time to restrict travel from Italy and Europe, where the coronavirus was spreading widely and rapidly. Analysis of virus samples from hard-hit New York in March suggested it was introduced there from Europe and other parts of the U.S., the CDC article reported.

Caputo is an unswerving Trump loyalist. His recent book, The Ukraine Hoax, claims the presidents phony impeachment was rooted in a vast conspiracy.

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unwinona:This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS…

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unwinona:This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS...

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My RSS Feedunwinona:

This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS and Polio narrative (among others), only we’re seeing it escalated to weeks and months instead of years or decades.

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