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Europe’s new Covid-19 wave, explained

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VIENNA — With new Covid-19 cases rising exponentially across the European continent, leaders are once again turning to social distancing mandates and business closures to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

There are curfews across England and France, limits on drinking in the Czech Republic and Belgium, and stricter mask requirements in Italy and Switzerland.

Here in the Austrian capital, where people can be seen panic-hoarding toilet paper again, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has warned of a “challenging autumn and winter” ahead. The country’s new anti-virus measures include limits on the size of gatherings, while one particularly hard-hit town in the Salzburg area, Kuchl, has shut down.

So far, the restrictions stop short of country-wide stay-at-home orders, where people’s movements are curtailed and non-essential businesses close. But already, local governments in several countries — including Austria, Germany, and the UK — have imposed targeted lockdowns, just as they did in the spring, and health officials in countries with the fastest-spiraling outbreaks are warning of more to come.

“How could we possibly be here again?” Clare Wenham, an assistant professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), asked of the UK, where the death toll from Covid-19 is among the highest in the world. It’s because “the government didn’t spend the last six to eight months investing and getting a good track, trace, and isolate system in place.”

Christina Animashaun/Vox

For months, scientists and global health experts warned that European governments must build up coronavirus testing and tracing capacity, put in place strict quarantine and isolation measures, ready hospitals for Covid-19 patients, protect the elderly and vulnerable, and, for god’s sake, get people to wear masks. Taking these steps, said Anthony Costello, a professor of global health at University College London, avoids “the bluntest weapon to control the epidemic” — the lockdown.

Yet, with few exceptions, leaders did not adequately prepare. Instead, there was complacency and denial. When social distancing measures slowed coronavirus spread over the summer, politicians lifted restrictions quickly in an effort to restart economies. They then failed to heed the warnings of scientists and doctors — that small upticks in infections would eventually culminate in an exponential growth in cases, followed by increases in hospitalizations and deaths. (A grim, similar pattern developed in the US.)

In the absence of stricter anti-virus measures now, Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe, warned last week, daily mortality rates from Covid-19 could reach “levels 4 to 5 times higher than what we recorded in April.” And what makes this wave even more challenging than the last: People have already endured the pain of lockdowns once. They’re tired of the pandemic, and leaders in some cities and states are even fighting back against federally imposed measures. If pandemic restrictions are abandoned, the new wave in Europe might rival the severity of the last one.

Europe’s new coronavirus wave, explained

The springtime lockdowns around the world came with a level of economic, psychological, and social pain we haven’t seen since the Second World War. Millions of people saw their lives dramatically shift: They changed how they work, lost jobs, or risked their health to carry on. They stayed away from loved ones, died alone, and delayed funerals. They put off weddings, canceled holidays, and kept their kids home from school.

These sacrifices, at least in the short term, appeared to pay off: By early summer, the first coronavirus wave was largely under control, and related hospitalizations and deaths were falling back down. But shortly after leaders began to lift the pandemic restrictions, people started socializing again, and, in many places, the virus started to move.

“This idea was you lift all restrictions, and we’ll have our life back,” Devi Sridhar, chair in global public health at the University of Edinburgh, told Vox. “But in no scenario do you lift restrictions and does life go back to how it was pre-Covid.”

In September, the new daily case counts in many European countries surpassed those reported during the first peak of the pandemic. You can see the trends in this chart from Our World in Data:

Our World in Data

To be sure, you can’t “take the numbers today and place them on top of the earlier curve and assume it’s the same thing,” as Flavia Riccardo, a researcher at the Italian National Institute of Health, told Vox in September. That’s because this new peak can — in part — be explained by more robust testing across the continent: Health authorities in many countries are simply testing more than they were in March, when tests either weren’t available or the indication for testing was limited.

But the expansion of testing doesn’t fully explain what’s happening. As you can see in the next chart, the daily share of positive tests began increasing in July from a summer low. This means health officials in many countries didn’t keep up with the predictable, post-summer increase in demand for testing — and therefore aren’t finding where new pockets of disease are spreading. In other words, they’ve lost control of their epidemics.

Our World in Data

Also worrying: Covid-19 hospitalizations are rising across Europe again. It took a while to see hospitals fill up: the uptick in cases over the summer first affected mostly younger people who are less susceptible to severe disease. But by September, that younger group had spread the virus to their older friends, colleagues, and relatives. And by mid-October, Covid-19 hospitalizations and ICU admissions were either high (at a quarter of the spring pandemic peak) or had increased compared to the previous week in 20 countries in Europe, according to the ECDC. And with more hospitalizations and ICU admissions, come more Covid-19 deaths.

Our World in Data

As you can see in this chart, the deaths per million so far are nowhere near the last peak. “Although we record 2 to 3 times more cases per day compared to the April peak, we still observe 5 times fewer deaths,” the WHO’s Kluge noted in an October 15 update.

The doubling time for hospital admissions has also slowed down in Europe: it’s “still 2 to 3 times longer” than it was in the spring, Kluge said. And, thanks in part to improved treatment approaches, people have better odds of surviving when they are admitted to a hospital. According to the Financial Times, in March, people over the age of 70 had a 50 percent chance of living; by August, that number climbed to 74 percent.

Still, the increases in deaths have sparked renewed fears that the new wave is going to overwhelm hospital systems again — and once they’re overwhelmed, doctors will have a tougher time keeping patients alive. (At the height of Italy’s epidemic last March, doctors were forced to ration care while the army was drafted to help move corpses piling up in the outbreak’s epicenter.)

To stave off these nightmare scenarios, broader lockdown becomes inevitable. The simple math of Covid-19 explains why. As Tom Inglesby — the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security — explained on Twitter: “We have had [ten times] the numbers of Covid deaths as compared to influenza last year, and that is with huge social distancing, masking and restrictive policies in place. Without those things in place, the numbers of Covid deaths would have been many, many times higher.”

Or, Sridhar told Vox in September, “If you see hospitals filling up and ICU beds full, [politicians will] have no choice but to implement some kind of lockdown unless you want your health system to collapse… You can’t have people dying in hospital doorways because they can’t get access to oxygen.”

That’s why countries are imposing social distancing measures anew — and why there may be more to come soon.

Europe’s new measures

Let’s take a brief look at new measures in some of Europe’s coronavirus hotspots, sorted here by countries with the highest incidence in new cases over the past two weeks. They range from mask mandates and curfews, to lockdowns:

An empty market square in Kuchl, near Salzburg, Austria, on October 17.
Barbara Gindl/APA/AFP via Getty Images

Most of these restrictions are more limited than the national lockdowns we saw in the spring — but they may be followed by stricter measures. And the most troubling part is that this was both predictable and preventable.

The first lockdowns were supposed to buy countries time to avoid more pain

Just about everyone who has been watching this pandemic closely warned that, as the first set of lockdowns lifted and people started mingling indoors after the summer, we’d see cases rise again.

But it wasn’t inevitable that cases would rise this much in Europe. To understand how the new wave could have looked different, let’s contrast the German coronavirus situation with what’s happening in the UK.

Our World in Data

Germany, which has consistently had a lower case and death rate than much of Europe, used the early days of the pandemic wisely: It quickly locked down, scaled up testing capacity, established a contact tracing network, made masks mandatory, empowered local health authorities to tailor policies to meet their local needs, and put in place a system for isolation and quarantine of confirmed and suspected cases. When local outbreaks have begun to grow swiftly, leaders reacted with localized lockdowns.

From the beginning of the pandemic, health authorities and politicians also listened to scientists, adapting policies as the evidence evolved. Most recently, for example, the government in the southern state of Bavaria gave schools money to improve classroom ventilation ahead of the winter.

These measures didn’t bring Covid-19 cases to zero. And when states across Germany relaxed social distancing measures this summer, cases started creeping back up — and they could still spike further. But the country’s epidemic is so far growing at a slower rate compared to the rest of Europe, and on a per capita basis, the outbreak in Germany is still milder.

What’s more, the systems in place should also help Germans stay on top of where the virus is spreading, and more quickly snuff out new outbreaks when they arise.

That’s what’s happened in South Korea, which launched a mass testing, tracing, and isolating programpowered by surveillance technology — even before their first major outbreak. The country is now reporting only 50 new cases per day and their numbers have stayed low for months.

“Lockdowns only make sense if they’re followed by testing and tracing,” Steven Hoffman, director of York University’s Global Strategy Lab, summed up. “Otherwise you’ve endured a painful experience without any longevity in its benefit.”

Indeed, countries that didn’t use the lockdown, and post-lockdown, period as effectively are now faring worse in the second wave. Look at the UK — with one of the fastest-growing outbreaks in Europe. Like the US, the UK government repeatedly failed to heed the advice of scientists and establish an effective testing, tracing, and isolating protocol.

For months, they waffled over whether to require face masks. After the summer, testing shortfalls meant thousands of people couldn’t access Covid-19 diagnostics when they wanted to. Today, most people still don’t get their test results in a timely manner (in England, only 10 percent get results within 24 hours). This means people with the virus may be going about their daily lives, potentially spreading to others, before they know they’re positive.

There’s also little follow-up or support to ensure people actually isolate and quarantine, said University College London’s Anthony Costello. “In the progressive European countries like Germany, and in South Korea and China, [the government] would pay your salary when you isolate. And if you’re not working, there’s a proper sickness benefit,” he said. Britain has no such program.

Scientists “have been saying testing, tracing, isolating hasn’t been working here. The testing was wrong, the tracing was wrong,” Costello added. “I’m realizing now nobody listens.”

Europe’s new coronavirus wave is a devastating, political failure — especially for the poorest and most vulnerable

Make no mistake: The quasi-lockdowns in place already, and stricter measures possibly to come, are the result of a political failure. “It was understandable that countries imposed lockdowns in the initial weeks when countries first got hit and were quickly overwhelmed,” Adam Kamradt-Scott, a global health professor at the University of Sydney. “But six months on, countries should have sufficient systems in place to undertake the necessary contact tracing and have a range of other measures they can use to limit the spread of the virus, rather than looking to hard lockdowns as the answer.”

The lack of those systems is a failure that the public will have to keep paying for, said LSE’s Clare Wenham. “Unless governments crack [testing, tracing, and isolating], we’re going to see these endless cycles of lockdowns every four to five months. There’s no other way.”

Hundreds of hospitality workers take part in a demonstration in Parliament Square in London on October 19.
Wiktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In some cases, governments may not be able to revert to spring-style closures. The highest court in Austria, for example, determined the March and April ban on entering public places, and a tiered rollout for shops reopening according to their size, was partly unconstitutional. Similar legal battles are unfolding at the city and state level in other countries in Europe.

But with disease spread out of control, economic activity may contract even without government lockdowns because people may start to voluntarily restrict their movements, according to an analysis from the International Monetary Fund. “When we looked backward at the economic impact of the pandemic in the first half of the year, it’s true that lockdowns contributed to the economic contraction,” said Damiano Sandri, an IMF analyst who has been studying the impact of the virus. “But economic activity also contracted because people got scared and didn’t go out as they would otherwise when infections increased.”

In other words, the social and economic toll of the pandemic isn’t only caused by lockdowns. “The damage is also done if you get a strong wave of infections,” Sandri added, “and people start dying.”

In either scenario, businesses would have to restrict their hours or shutter altogether this winter. More people will lose wages or lose their jobs. And the economic toll of the pandemic has already been devastating — the worst recession since the Second World War. “The worst outcomes for governments are the repetitive lockdown,” Wenham added. “It’s better to be in one lockdown longer and have one economic shock than have these rolling shocks for two years.”

As the cold weather sets in across the Northern Hemisphere, people will have to stay away from their loved ones again. Parents will have to juggle work and child care, or choose between the two, again. The sick and elderly will have to endure another bout of isolation and loneliness, in some cases, gasping their last breaths alone.

Or maybe pandemic fatigue will deepen, the public will resist new measures, and virus cases will soar.

Researchers have been busy calculating the health and social toll of the first round of coronavirus lockdowns. Cancer screenings dropped off dramatically in multiple countries. Domestic violence soared, as did childhood malnutrition and mental health problems. More people suffered heart attacks at home, delaying life-saving visits to emergency rooms.

These are only the effects we can quantify right now, said Steven Woolf, a family medicine and population health professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, who has been tracking the rise in mortality from non-Covid-19 causes in the US.

Woolf expects, in the years ahead, we’ll find there was a lot more devastation than is currently visible: such as a surge in deaths from chronic conditions — such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, and HIV — as a result of Covid-19 disruptions in health care. The pandemic could also bring a “spike in overdose deaths” from loneliness and addiction services disruptions, and a long-term toll on childhood development.

“Decades from now, researchers may be talking about the ‘pandemic generation,’” Woolf said, “and some of the health effects they tolerated because they grew up in the midst of this.”

This will be especially true for the poorest and most vulnerable among us. Covid-19-related job losses, and even infections and deaths, have disproportionately affected the poor and minority groups around the world. Blunt tools like city- or nationwide lockdowns only exacerbate those impacts, York’s Steven Hoffman said.

“It’s easy for some people to lockdown, particularly when they’re able to work from home. It’s far more difficult for those working in the service industry, who can’t work from home and might be living paycheck to paycheck,” Hoffman added. “The story of this pandemic is that it’s been a grand revealer for the inequalities in our society.”


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All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year

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(CNN) —  

Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.

Coffee

Best burr coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com or walmart.com)

Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder

Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)

Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker
Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker

During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.

Read more from our testing of single-serve coffee makers here.

Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)

T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid
T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid

If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.

Audio

Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.

Read more from our testing of noise-canceling headphones here.

Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.

Read more from our testing of on-ear headphones here.

Beauty

Best matte lipstick: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick ($11, originally $22; amazon.com or $22; nordstrom.com and stilacosmetics.com)

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick

The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

Best everyday liquid liner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22; stilacosmetics.com or macys.com)

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

Best office chair: Steelcase Series 1 (starting at $381.60; amazon.com or $415, wayfair.com)

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Home

Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.

Video

Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.

Travel

Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.

Read more from our testing of carry-on luggage here.

Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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