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Scientists say the coronavirus is airborne. Here’s what that means.

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Since the beginning of the pandemic, the World Health Organization has stressed that Covid-19 primarily spreads through very close personal contact. The virus-laden droplets exhaled from a sick person’s mouth and nose, the thinking goes, are heavy, and fall to the ground before they can get much farther than 6 feet.

But as the pandemic has unfolded, contact tracing studies have shown this isn’t always the case. In China, an air conditioner pushed virus-laden air across three tables in a restaurant, infecting people seated at each one. Researchers reviewed video from the restaurant and saw many of these patrons were more than 6 feet apart from one another, suggesting that the virus traveled through the air.

In Washington state, another study showed one person at a choir practice infected 52 of the other participants; it’s thought the singing could have led more virus to linger in the air. Carefully controlled laboratory studies are also suggesting that under the right indoor conditions, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, can float in the air and, to a certain degree, spread that way.

In July, the WHO changed its language to recognize that fact. “Short-range aerosol transmission, particularly in specific indoor locations, such as crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces over a prolonged period of time with infected persons cannot be ruled out,” the WHO now states. Previously, the organization maintained that airborne transmission was unlikely to occur outside the hospital setting, where some procedures can generate super-small particles that linger in the air longer than large respiratory drops.

On September 20, the CDC also updated its guidance to say that the “main way” the virus spreads is through droplets or small particles, “like aerosols.” Air quality scientists and engineers who have been calling for such a change celebrated.

With recognition of this mode of transmission, the scientists hope, communities can think more about the ventilation of indoor spaces and perhaps engineer solutions to make these spaces safer.

The CDC also noted the “growing evidence” these droplets and airborne particles can travel more than 6 feet in the air. (Though, it’s been clear for quite some time that the 6 feet guidance was insufficient to explain all the facets of the risk in catching Covid-19.)

But then, on Monday, the CDC retracted its updated guidance, writing “a draft version of proposed changes to these recommendations was posted in error to the agency’s official website.” It was not immediately clear why the update was retracted. But something stinks: As the New York Times and other media outlets have reported, President Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services has been interfering with the CDC’s scientific communications for apparent political reasons.

Overall, the public communications on the aerosol issue have been something of a mess. It turns out scientists have been debating whether respiratory diseases like the flu and coronavirus should be labeled “airborne” for a century. The “airborne” designation is more commonly applied to extremely contagious diseases, like measles.

A lot of these terms are confusing (even to the scientists), and they don’t answer the question lay people care about: Which air is safe to breathe in during the Covid-19 pandemic, and which air is not safe?

To answer that question, it’s helpful to understand two different scientific perspectives on the matter. One is: What physically happens when a sick person breathes, sneezes, or coughs into a room? The other is: What patterns have epidemiologists observed in the way people are exposed to the virus and get sick?

Let’s start with the first.

Big drops versus little drops

There’s a relatively simple, if outdated, way of thinking about how respiratory diseases can spread.

It starts like this: When you exhale, sneeze, or cough, you release a cloud of gas and liquid droplets.

If those droplets are relatively big, they’re heavy and fall to the ground before evaporating, like raindrops do. Others are smaller, and made smaller still by evaporation. These smaller droplets can linger in the air longer, drifting on air currents for perhaps hours. If a droplet is small enough, the moisture in it evaporates before it has the chance to reach the ground (provided the humidity in the room is average). If there’s stuff like germs in that droplet, they become light enough to float on air currents, like the dust you can see suspended in the air. These particles are often called aerosols.

This framework is old, and it comes from William Wells, a scientist who studied tuberculosis transmission in the 1930s. In a 1934 paper, Wells concluded: “It appears, therefore, that transmission of infection through air may take one of two forms depending upon the size of the infected droplet.”

Wells’s 1934 chart showing the cutoff between droplets and aerosols.
Wells/American Journal of Epidemiology

When it comes to Covid-19, one of the first questions epidemiologists tried to answer was: Is the virus spread in the dust that floats or the big drops that fall?

If it’s the small dust, alarm bells go off. These are the prototypical airborne diseases. They include measles, chickenpox, and tuberculosis, and they are extremely contagious. On average, one person infected with measles will infect 12 to 18 others.

If it’s the big drops, it’s still concerning. Diseases like the flu, whooping cough, the common cold, and coronaviruses are primarily large droplet-borne. With these diseases, only the closest contacts to an infected person get infected because large droplets quickly fall to the ground (within 6 feet or so). It’s also possible for these big drops to fall on surfaces, and those surfaces can become contaminated too. Luckily, in the case of Covid-19, there’s a growing consensus that getting sick from touching contaminated surfaces is rare. But keep washing your hands!

(Interestingly, there’s no one reason a new virus, like SARS-CoV-2, would go one route or the other. It’s possible, says University of Leicester virologist Julian Tang, that there may be a difference in the immune response with these airborne diseases that makes saliva and mucous less viscous, leading to more virus in small drops. Also, Tang writes in an email, “it is possible (though no one has studied this yet) that exhaled breath from measles/chickenpox cases may just be shedding much more virus (maybe millions of virus per minute) compared to respiratory viruses, which only exhale 100s to 1000s of viruses per minute.”)

A part of why the terminology here is so confusing, and there’s so much debate about it, is that the words “aerosol” and “droplet” mean different things to different scientific disciplines.

“An aerosol is a particle in the air,” said Lidia Morawska, an engineer and the director of the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health at Queensland University of Technology. “A droplet is a liquid aerosol.” To her, the distinction between droplets and aerosols doesn’t make any sense. To her, they are all aerosols.

Wells’s droplet versus airborne distinction is still used today. It’s outdated.

Wells outlined a clear distinction between droplets and aerosols according to their size. Big drops fall, and little aerosolized drops float. It’s now appreciated that the actual picture is a lot more complicated.

“We’re always exhaling, in fact, a gas cloud that contains within it a continuum spectrum of droplet sizes,” Lydia Bourouiba, an MIT researcher who studies the fluid dynamics of infections, said in a July interview. And, as she explained in a March paper in JAMA, the conditions of the cloud itself can affect the range of some of the droplets. If propelled by a cough or sneeze, Bourouiba finds, droplets can travel upward of 20 feet. “The cloud mixture, not the drop sizes, determines the initial range of the drops and their fate in indoor environments.”

The speed of the cloud, the temperature and humidity of the environment, and the individual droplet makeup of each cloud determine how long the droplets persist in the air, Bourouiba explained in JAMA.


Lydia Bouroubia’s lab captured this video of all the droplets unleashed by a sneeze.
JAMA

Which is to say: There are conditions (coughing and sneezing) under which large drops don’t immediately fall to the floor and can spread more than 6 feet away from a person, and they can linger in the air for longer. (It’s also possible SARS-CoV-2 may be in some of the smaller, floatier drops expelled by our breath too.)

There’s growing theoretical evidence for the airborne spread of the coronavirus. Lab studies, in idealized conditions, also show that the virus can live in an aerosolized form for up to 16 hours (the scientists in this case intentionally created aerosolized droplets with a machine).

Another study tracked with lasers the various droplets expelled from a human mouth during speech. It found “normal speech generates airborne droplets that can remain suspended for tens of minutes or longer and are eminently capable of transmitting disease in confined spaces.”

Multiple studies have found evidence of the virus’s RNA in the air of hospital rooms. But the WHO notes “no studies have found viable virus in air samples,” meaning the virus was either incapable of infecting others or was in very small quantities unlikely to infect others.

“What we are trying to say is, well, let’s not worry about whether you call it aerosol or whether you call it a droplet,” Morawska, the co-author of a Julycommentary imploring the WHO and others to address airborne transmission of Covid-19, said in July. “It is in the air,” she says, “and you inhale it. It’s coming from our nose from our mouths. It’s lingering in the air and others can inhale it.”

That the WHO updated its language is a sign that it’s starting to appreciate this perspective. (That said: The WHO still defines a droplet as a particle larger than 5-to-10 microns, and an aerosol as something smaller, despite many scientists arguing the cutoff is meaningless.)

But this perspective is limited. These lab studies can’t perfectly generalize to the real-world conditions in which the virus spreads and infects others. Just because a virus travels far in a drop doesn’t mean it can infect people across great distances. Viruses can degrade quickly outside the body. Also, dose matters. Small exposures to the virus may not be enough to get a person sick.

So to find out how people actually get sick with Covid-19, we need contact tracing studies.

Contact tracing studies show airborne transmission may be possible in confined indoor spaces

Lab studies note the theoretical possibility of airborne transmission. But that’s only one part of the answer to the question “which air is safe to breathe?” Epidemiologists come at this question from another angle, looking at patterns of virus spread observed in the real world and working backward to determine if airborne spread factors in.

Contact tracing studies show us that while droplets being inhaled by people within 6 feet of an infected person explains most of the transmission of Covid-19, there are limited times and environments in which SARS-CoV-2 can behave a bit like an airborne virus.

“So we need to define which types of contact, which type of environments, lead to that type of transmission,” Muge Cevik, a physician and virology expert at the University of St. Andrews, said in a July interview. In households, she says, an infected person can be isolated in one room and not spread the virus to others in the home (if they remain isolated). A systematic review of studies in The Lancet of both SARS-CoV-2 and similar viruses found large reductions in risk if people just stay 1 meter (3 feet) away from one another. This suggests a lot of the risk of catching Covid-19 is from the large drops that fall quickly to the ground.

But then there are cases where people are packed together in an enclosed space — like a church, with singing or shouting — where the transmission looks a little more like airborne transmission.

The infamous choir practice in Washington state is an example of where airborne transmission might have happened. But what made this event so risky was the convergence of many risk factors: the singing activity (during which the infected person released viral particles into the air), the time spent together (the practice was 2.5 hours), and the interaction between the choir members in an enclosed space (not only did they all practice together, they also split up into smaller groups and shared cookies and tea).

Another study from China investigated an outbreak that started at a Buddhist temple event, tracing much of the spread to the confines of one of the buses transporting people to the function. The bus had one sick person aboard, and 24 out of 67 people on that bus got sick, possibly indicating airborne transmission. Those who sat by the windows fared better, indicating the importance of ventilation.

“I think we just need to get away from this terminology and give much more clear definitions,” Cevik says. For her, it’s about getting people to think critically about which situations are riskier than others. “Risk is a spectrum. It’s not only the distance, but it’s about timing, what type of activities you’re involved in. I know it’s a bit complex, but that’s the reality.”

“Airborne” transmission means something very specific for doctors and health care workers

One possible reason the CDC and the WHO have been slow to address the airborne transmission of Covid-19: In a health care setting, “airborne” means a very specific thing.

Though infection prevention experts know there’s a fuzzy boundary between drops that fall and specks that float, the dichotomy between airborne and droplet-borne is baked into how health care workers are trained to respond to outbreaks. “We’ve trained [health care workers] for decades to say, airborne is tuberculosis, measles, chickenpox, droplet is flu and pertussis and meningitis,” Saskia Popescu, a hospital epidemiologist in Arizona, said over the summer. “And that’s, unfortunately, kind of antiquated. But that’s how we’ve always done it.”

They do it because there are very specific sets of guidelines in place to deal with extremely contagious airborne diseases in a hospital setting. For instance, a patient with a dangerous airborne disease often needs to be put in a room with an air pressure lower than the rest of the rooms in the building. That way, no virus in the air of that room can escape it (since air flows from high pressure to low pressure).

For droplet transmission, health care workers can be a little more lax; they can wear simple surgical masks during routine care and can save high-filtration (and sometimes scarce) respirators for the most dangerous procedures and cases.

In this light, it makes some sense that the WHO has been hesitant to label Covid-19 an “airborne” infection. It’s not an airborne infection like measles is. It is not as contagious. Contact tracing studies consistently find that Covid-19 is spread most readily among people in the closest physical contact to one another. “Airborne” means something very specific, very resource-intensive, and very scary for hospitals and the people who work in them. And Covid-19 doesn’t match that definition.

“The debate often isn’t very nuanced because of these rigid categories,” Daniel Diekema, an infectious diseases physician and epidemiologist at the University of Iowa, says. “As soon as you say ‘airborne’ in the hospital infection prevention world, it brings to mind pathogens like tuberculosis, measles, chickenpox. It’s clear the respiratory viruses, influenza, coronaviruses, are not airborne in the same way that the measles, varicella [chickenpox] become airborne.”

But at the same time, with Covid-19 and other respiratory viruses, “there definitely are small-particle aerosols produced,” he says. “And in the right setting, where there’s poor ventilation, indoors, and a crowded environment, there is a risk for transmission among individuals, even if they may be more than 6 feet apart.”

So what do we do with this information?

Neither contact tracing studies nor lab studies can perfectly answer the question of “which air is safe?” But that’s science for you. Scientists use imperfect methods, attacking from many angles, to try to arrive at the truth, which can take a while to nail down precisely.

Overall, the recognition that Covid-19 can spread through the air shouldn’t really change how we, individually, protect ourselves and others against it. Six feet of distance between people is still a good barrier to prevent spread via large drops. Mask-wearing could help prevent both large drops and small drops from being released in the first place. Time matters too: the longer we spend in an enclosed, poorly ventilated space with others, the greater the chances of being exposed to an infectious dose of the virus.

The bottom line, as a trio of engineers from Clarkson University writes in the Conversation, is that “while staying six feet from other people reduces exposure, it might not be sufficient in all situations, such as in enclosed, poorly ventilated rooms.”

We still need to think about the environments we’re in: Indoors is much riskier than outdoors (where greater airflow can disperse drops and aerosols more quickly, and where the environment is less conducive to SARS-CoV-2 survival). And indoors, ventilation can make a big difference. An indoor space where the air is constantly refreshed with air from the outdoors is better than one where the air is stagnant. (The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers has published extensive guidelines on how to reopen buildings with increased ventilation during the pandemic.)

We also still need to think about the activity we’re engaging in. Shouting, singing, and other such activities produce more droplets (of any size) than just sitting quietly.

Morawska hopes that in bringing attention to airborne spread of Covid-19, there can be more attention paid to engineering solutions for indoor spaces to mitigate the spread of the pandemic.

Public health officials have continually stressed social distancing, mask-wearing, and hand-washing as ways to stop the spread of Covid-19. “But have you ever heard a restaurant reopening announce they’ve improved ventilation or increased ventilation? No. This is really the point,” Morawska says. If Covid-19 is in indoor air, we should also be doing something about the air.


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World

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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