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How pandemic fatigue and polarization led to Wisconsin’s massive Covid-19 outbreak

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The coronavirus epidemic in Wisconsin is so bad that, earlier this month, the state opened field hospitals to take on a wave of cases and deaths that officials feared would overwhelm the health care system.

The US has one of the worst Covid-19 outbreaks in the world, and Wisconsin has one of the worst outbreaks within the US. Only the Dakotas and Montana have higher rates of daily new cases. Wisconsin’s outbreak also shows no signs of abating: Since the beginning of October, the seven-day average of daily new coronavirus cases has risen by almost 40 percent. Covid-19 deaths have increased by more than 95 percent over the month.

Wisconsin is the most populous state ranked in the top five for Covid-19 cases. And it’s likely the most important politically — Donald Trump’s win in the state helped cement his Electoral College victory in 2016.

In some ways, the story of Wisconsin’s recent surge is similar to other surges across the country: Cases gradually rose after restrictions were loosened in May, then skyrocketed as the public eased up — gathering for Labor Day, going back to bars and indoor dining, and returning to college campuses.

“It’s a combination of a lot of things that have occurred at the same time,” Ajay Sethi, an epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin Madison, told me. “It was a perfect storm.”

A chart of the seven-day average of Covid-19 cases in Wisconsin.

But what makes Wisconsin unique is the role political polarization has played. It’s not just that its voters are divided enough to make Wisconsin a swing state in presidential elections. The state government is also divided, and that’s had clear consequences: Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, has repeatedly tried to enact new restrictions and policies to combat Covid-19, only to have them threatened or overturned by Republican lawmakers.

It was a Republican-controlled Supreme Court that forced Wisconsin’s reopening in the first place by striking down Evers’s stay-at-home order. (Some local governments imposed new restrictions, but others didn’t.) It’s the Republican-controlled legislature that’s now threatening to repeal the state’s mask mandate. And President Donald Trump has held rallies in the state — even as its caseload grew — downplaying the pandemic by claiming it’s “rounding the corner” and calling for the state to “open it up.”

Experts argue that the state needs a united front to take down the coronavirus — and, in particular, the state’s Republican leaders have to accept what scientists have repeatedly said on Covid-19. But, for now, the public isn’t getting consistent leadership or messaging. Some GOP lawmakers, like Trump, continue to push for the opposite, calling into question the need for social distancing and masking even as the evidence supports both.

For Wisconsin, that’s not only helped make its coronavirus epidemic one of the current worst in the US but threatens to keep the outbreak going. Until state lawmakers and the public take action, there’s no reason to think Wisconsin’s coronavirus cases and deaths will subside. It’s yet another lesson in the need for continued vigilance against the coronavirus.

“The bottom line is that the vast majority of the population is susceptible to Covid-19,” Amanda Simanek, an epidemiologist, at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, told me.

In some ways, Wisconsin reflects the standard Covid-19 story

Part of what’s led Wisconsin down this path is the story that’s been repeated again and again in explaining different states’ Covid-19 outbreaks: The state reopened too early and quickly, while the public and its leaders didn’t take precautions like social distancing and masking seriously enough.

In Wisconsin, Evers tried to maintain a stay-at-home order. After the state Supreme Court struck it down, he’s tried to institute milder restrictions, such as limits on public gatherings and capacity at restaurants and bars. But courts have blocked those restrictions, too.

Republicans in the state have criticized and fought Evers every step of the way, either in the courts or in the legislature. Trump has played into this — telling supporters at a Wisconsin rally, “I wish you had a Republican governor, because, frankly, you’ve got to open your state up. You’ve got to open it up.”

With only local restrictions left in place, much of the state has reopened.

At the same time, the public has become increasingly fatigued with the pandemic and all the hindrances it’s produced in everyday life. The restrictions also may have seemed less necessary to Wisconsinites, as much of the state avoided the kind of large outbreak seen across the US throughout the summer. That mix of fatigue and complacency, experts said, likely led more people to start moving about and gathering together by Labor Day.

So people went out more, with a chance to infect one another during each interaction. The reopening of indoor bars and restaurants poses especially big concerns for experts: In these spaces, people are close together for long periods of time; they can’t wear masks as they eat or drink; the air can’t dilute the virus like it can outdoors; and alcohol can lead them to drop their guards further.

Wisconsin’s current surge appeared to first take off in colleges and universities, with the state’s college towns ranking among the worst Covid-19 outbreaks in the US in September as students returned to campus, partied, and hit up bars and restaurants.

By now, though, the outbreaks have spread much further — nearly statewide. This seemed to start around Labor Day, when friends and family gathered, partied, and spread the virus. Coupled with Wisconsin’s reopening as restrictions have been struck down or eliminated, cases have skyrocketed since then.

This, too, was similar to many of the summer outbreaks, as Memorial Day and reopenings led to new surges of Covid-19 in the South, West, and, over time, much of the rest of the US. Similarly, in the summer, a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that increases in cases among younger populations eventually led to increases among older groups — as may have happened after universities and colleges reopened in Wisconsin.

The problem is these places never got Covid-19 cases down. Indeed, Wisconsin’s cases have never consistently declined — at least to levels that experts consider safe. By Labor Day, Wisconsin had more than double the confirmed coronavirus cases that it had at the start of June. That left a large population of infected people to spread the coronavirus to other people as they went out more. “The virus was already there,” Sethi said.

These problems stand to get worse in the fall and winter. The much colder temperatures in Wisconsin will push people indoors, where the virus has an easier time spreading. Friends and families will once again gather for the holidays, from Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year’s Eve. Another flu season could strain hospitals further, hindering their ability to treat a surge of Covid-19 patients.

In that sense, Wisconsin’s story really is like much of the country’s: Premature reopenings have led to more cases and deaths, and they’ll potentially lead to even more cases and deaths as the fall and winter likely make things riskier.

“It’s not particularly surprising,” Simanek said. “But it’s not necessarily inevitable.”

Political polarization has uniquely hurt Wisconsin’s response

Political divides now drive different levels of social distancing and mask use between Democrats and Republicans across the country. What makes Wisconsin unique is how pronounced political polarization is in a state so evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans — the state doesn’t register voters by party, but the state legislature is held by Republicans while the governor is a Democrat, and Trump in 2016 won Wisconsin by just 0.7 percent of the vote.

This division has made partisan fights about Covid-19 especially fierce and consequential, particularly between Democratic leaders, including Evers, and Republican leaders in charge of the state’s Assembly and Senate. In general, Evers has tried to push for the policies that experts have called for in the face of Covid-19 — social distancing, masking, and so on — and Republican lawmakers have resisted.

Most recently, Evers declared a third state of emergency related to Covid-19 and extended his mask mandate. Republicans responded by threatening to repeal the mandate (but so far have shown few signs of actually doing it, with the state Assembly not reconvening so far).

On top of hindering the policy response, this has also led to mixed public health messages to the public. By and large, Republicans — particularly Trump — suggest that Covid-19 isn’t a real threat. Democrats, including Evers and presidential candidate Joe Biden, claim that the pandemic has to be taken seriously.

That’s led to partisan differences in who takes action against Covid-19. Anecdotally, people in more Republican parts of the state are less likely to wear masks. That’s backed by polling, which has found that Republicans are less likely to wear masks at all and, if they do wear masks, do so less frequently.

“There’s a lot of mixed attitudes with how to resolve this issue and even questioning whether the pandemic is a problem at all that needs to be addressed,” Sethi said. “So there’s a critical mass in the state — particularly in the northeast of the state, but really throughout the state — that just aren’t taking the precautions they should be taking.”

More broadly, experts worry the political fights have muddled guidance even for people who do want to take Covid-19 more seriously. When state leaders give contradictory advice, and that advice appears to differ based on political party, it may become easier for members of the public to tune out in the face of what seems like another partisan battle in a state that already has a lot of political differences and squabbling.

It’s also leading to less clear messaging as to what the public should do. How dangerous is Covid-19, really? Are social distancing and masks really effective? Are treatments already effective enough to not worry about the disease? Is a vaccine around the corner? These are all valid questions with real answers (all of which generally point to continued, sustained action against the coronavirus), but people have to break through political fights, talking points, and misinformation to get those answers.

The political back-and-forth, Sethi argued, “subconsciously gives people permission to believe what they want to believe.”

In normal times, this kind of response from lawmakers and the public might just block important legislation from passing. But today, it’s fueling a deadly pandemic right as it unfolds.

Wisconsin has to get serious on the crisis to turn things around

As grim as things are in Wisconsin today, the truth is that Covid-19 isn’t unstoppable. The solutions are the same things experts have now been repeating for months throughout the pandemic: More testing and contact tracing to isolate people who are infected, get their close contacts to quarantine, and deploy broader restrictions as necessary. More masking. More careful, phased reopenings. More social distancing.

But Wisconsin, its leaders, and its population have to take these measures seriously. And, crucially, they have to keep at it: Until there’s a vaccine or similarly effective treatment, the coronavirus will remain a constant threat. “There’s only so much you can do to contain this if there isn’t a coherent, uniform response,” Simanek said.

The risk now is that Wisconsin’s outbreak could get so bad that a lockdown may become necessary. That’s what’s happened in Israel and European nations, as they’ve seen Covid-19 epidemics spiral out of control.

Of course, no one wants a lockdown. That’s exactly why experts emphasize the need for less restrictive measures now: If the public and its leaders take social distancing, testing, tracing, and masking seriously and sustain such measures, coronavirus cases can come down without a harsh lockdown. At least, that’s what seemed to work in other developed countries, like South Korea.

As things remain, though, the situation in Wisconsin is pretty bad — with cases still rising and Republican lawmakers still resisting the governor’s actions. If that continues as the fall rolls on and winter arrives, the state’s bad coronavirus outbreak stands to get even worse.

“In the current state,” UW Madison epidemiologist Nasia Safdar told me, “there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.”


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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.

Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.


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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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