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The new Covid-19 case surge in Europe, explained

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VIENNA — “I have never seen an emergency room so crowded with very, very sick patients,” recalls Annalisa Malara, a doctor at Codogno Hospital in Lombardy, Italy. “We were literally overwhelmed by the number.”

That was late February, when Malara diagnosed Italy’s first case of locally transmitted Covid-19. An emotionally-wrenching marathon of hospital shifts followed. Malara felt like she was constantly scrambling — to get enough oxygen to keep patients alive, to arrange patient transfers to other hospitals, to try and sleep so she could keep going. “We had to watch patients die,” she said. “It’s something that I think I can’t forget — I will never forget.”

More recently, Codogno Hospital has been Covid-19-free. But with case counts rising across the country and the continent again, Malara worries about a return to tragedy. Earlier in September, she spent hours on the phone with colleagues to check on the status of their intensive care units. The situation was stable — though no one was sure how long that would last. “Everyone is very scared,” she confessed.

Only six months after Italy’s coronavirus crisis became a warning to the West about how quickly the virus could strain even the best-resourced health systems in the world, Italian officials are once again reporting around 1,500 new infections each day. That’s not yet anywhere near the last peak of 6,500 — but it’s a significant rise from 200 in early July.

Women dance at an outdoor restaurant near Rome, Italy, as the DJ repeats “Put your masks on!” on August 14.
Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images
Demonstrators organized by Covid-19 deniers and far-right political parties rallied to protest against the Italian government’s restrictions in Rome, Italy, on September 5.
Stefano Montesi/Corbis via Getty Images

France and Spain, currently the hardest-hit countries in the region, are tracking an onslaught of case numbers even worse than their springtime peaks. On September 7, Spain became the first European country to count half a million total cases — more than 100,000 of them diagnosed in the two weeks prior. Days later, France recorded a jump of 10,000 new cases in one day. In Austria, between late April and mid-June, cases stayed below 100 for weeks, then gradually rose, with 768 reported on September 16.

Even Germany, an oft-cited example of coronavirus response excellence in Europe, has slowly seen its daily case count edge up, with nearly 2,000 infections — a doubling from August 1. As a whole, the European Union is currently much closer to America’s daily tally — with about 30,000 (65 cases per million) cases to America’s about 38,000 (115 cases per million).

Chart: “Covid-19 cases are rising again in Europe” Christina Animashaun/Vox

Yet one can almost forget there’s a pandemic going on in many parts of the continent. Here in Vienna, where Covid-19 infections are rising so fast Germany just declared the city a high-risk hot spot, restaurants in my neighborhood are full of maskless people practically sitting elbow-to-elbow, kids are back on the playgrounds across the city, and opera season has reopened.

This disjuncture — between the rapidly rising case counts and relatively relaxed social life — has left some confused, and others complacent. When I showed up at a small garden brunch on Saturday, the hosts said they’d wondered whether they should cancel — worrying what their neighbors would think of the gathering — after they heard the news that morning that Austria had just recorded more than 800 new daily infections. Meanwhile, a 20-something university student told me that the coronavirus now feels like old news to her peers.

Part of the confusion has to do with the fact that the current phase in Europe — despite how bad it looks according to case numbers alone — has a different dynamic from the first phase. And that’s not only because Covid-19-related hospitalizations and deaths aren’t rising nearly as quickly as they did in the spring. But it’s a dynamic that’s hard to see when you consider case counts or even hospitalizations alone.

“Even more than in March and April, we need to use [all the data we have] to paint a picture that’s complex and balanced,” said Edouard Mathieu, the Paris-based data manager of Oxford University’s Our World in Data project. Indeed, Europe’s latest coronavirus chapter is a much more nuanced story than the previous one — but it ultimately ends in the same place: a looming and very real threat of exponentially growing cases, leading to thousands of unnecessary deaths, and the threat of new lockdowns.

Why cases alone can’t tell us about Europe’s new Covid-19 surge

There are a few important caveats to keep in mind when examining Europe’s surging coronavirus case count. The biggest one: “[You can’t] take the numbers today and place them on top of the earlier curve and assume it’s the same thing,” Flavia Riccardo, a researcher at the Italian National Institute of Health, told Vox.

Official case numbers are always an artifact of how testing is being done — and how testing is done has changed dramatically over the course of the pandemic. “Most cases we were seeing at the beginning [of the pandemic] were clearly symptomatic, because the indication was to test only symptomatic people,” Riccardo said. “Generally people were asked to stay home until they had more severe symptoms. That’s the opposite of what’s happening now.”

That broadening of the Covid-19 testing criteria, along with an increased capacity to swab, has meant many more tests are being done, and more cases documented. In mid-March, German officials performed roughly 20,000 tests per day, according to Our World in Data. Now the number is a staggering 150,000. By the end of May, France and Spain were doing 37,000 and 44,000 daily tests, respectively; France now does 144,000 tests per day and Spain, 89,000.

Christina Animashaun/Vox

This suggests two things: During the first wave of the pandemic, health officials only captured a fraction of the coronavirus infections in the population, so the real peak in the spring was much higher than the official graphs suggested. “We probably measured something like less than 10 percent of what happened,” Mathieu said. Second, the recent surge looks relatively large compared to the spring spike — but in reality, it’s probably smaller.

Still, the expansion in testing alone can’t fully explain the current case uptick, at least not in every country. That’s where another metric — test per case — becomes useful.

The test-per-case ratio tracks exactly what it sounds like: the number of tests being done divided by the confirmed cases. When the number drops too low it means an epidemic is likely out of control, since officials can no longer keep up with the demand for testing and see where new pockets of disease are spreading.

And that’s what’s happening now in Europe — most notably Spain, Italy, and France — where cases are rising faster than can be explained by the increase in testing alone.

For example, back in June, Spanish officials did 130 tests for every confirmed case. As of September 12, that number had dropped to only nine tests per case. In Austria, the number of tests per confirmed case has fallen from 250 in early June to 20. A similar decline in the UK is proving to be worrisome. There, reports of an explosion in testing wait times and delays in people getting notified of positive results has sparked rumors of another lockdown.

Hospitalizations and deaths in Europe are rising — just at a slower rate than before

But there’s another aspect to the data we have to consider in order to understand the trends in Europe: how quickly infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are rising. Now they are generally increasing at a much slower rate than in the spring (you can see that more clearly when you plot the data on a logarithmic scale). While this is good news — the trends are still worrisome.

Let’s focus on hospitalizations for a moment to understand why. Hospitalizations are often an intermediate step between rising cases and increased mortality. They can also signal the extent to which a health care system is strained and, when they start rising, provide a warning that more resources need to be marshaled quickly.

Earlier in the pandemic, there was a two-week lag between an uptick in cases and a rise in hospitalizations, said Maria DeJoseph Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 technical lead. And when hospitalizations started increasing, that was followed by an increase in Covid-19 deaths.

Yet, for most of the summer, the surging Covid-19 caseload in European countries wasn’t accompanied by that growth in hospitalizations or deaths — a trend many attributed to the shift in transmission from mainly older to younger groups.

“Across Europe [over the summer], there were a number of outbreaks in social settings — nightclubs, restaurants, and social gatherings,” Van Kerkhove told Vox. The median age of cases dropped. So even though cases overall grew, hospitalizations and deaths were down — and that makes sense because younger people are more likely to experience mild or symptom-free infections.

Now, Covid-19 demographics are changing again — shifting back into older populations. In France, for example, 4 percent of tests performed on people age 60 and older are now positive — a doubling from two weeks ago. By September 10, there was a 44 percent increase in the proportion of people over age 75 who have been diagnosed with the virus compared to the previous week.

In Italy, the median age of cases went down from nearly 60 in February to 30 at the end of August. Now, it’s back up to 40 — and Riccardo thinks it’ll rise again as outbreaks move from social settings like nightclubs into households again.

So it has taken time for hospitalizations and deaths to start rising again — but they are now in France and Spain, Van Kerkhove said.

Mathieu walked me through the situation in France, which he’s been tracking. In July, cases started increasing in a way that couldn’t be explained by testing alone — albeit slowly, doubling every two weeks instead of every 3.5 days, like in March. A rise in hospitalizations didn’t follow immediately.

Now it’s clear that was because younger people were catching the virus. “[By mid-August], the virus started to affect older people, and then a few weeks later, hospitalizations have started to increase,” said Mathieu. By September 10, the French public health ministry reported that new Covid-19 hospitalizations were growing in all but one region of the country.

“Now we are starting to see deaths increase,” Mathieu added. In late July, there were 10 Covid-19 deaths per day. Now, there are 30. “This whole process took almost two months instead of [several] weeks.”

The exact same trend is playing out now in Spain, he added. “In March, the number of deaths was doubling every two to three days in Spain,” he said. “The current rate is much slower — deaths are doubling on average every two weeks.” But they’re still doubling.

Even if it’s happening more slowly this time, it’s still exponential growth that could require more lockdowns

There’s one last factor to consider in the slowing Covid-19 death rate: Doctors are better at diagnosing and treating the disease than they were at the start of the pandemic, so patients are more likely to survive.

“Governments like to congratulate themselves because they are not seeing level of hospitalizations and deaths as we saw at peak — and the reason for that is not because Covid isn’t still burning in same way,” said Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University global expert. “We’re catching it earlier and treating it better. So you see lower death rates because of earlier detection, better treatment, and elderly and vulnerable were either exposed and died or they learned the lesson and are staying away.”

These treatments include cheap and readily available drugs like dexamethasone and hydrocortisone, which can cut the risk of dying in very sick patients by a third.

While that’s certainly comforting, when cases start to rise and resources to deal with patients — drugs, personal protective equipment, beds, staff — don’t grow fast enough to meet demand, “your fatality rate will increase again,” Devi Sridhar, professor and chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, warned.

And that’s when the specter of lockdowns starts reappearing. “If you see hospitals filling up and ICU beds being full, [politicians will] have no choice but to implement some kind of lockdown unless you want your health system to collapse,” Sridhar added. “You can’t have people dying in hospital doorways because they cant get access to oxygen.”

Sridhar wasn’t at all surprised that Israel just imposed a new lockdown, or that Madrid — where doctors are calling the situation “March in slow motion” — is also resorting to lockdown measures. She also predicts there will be more to come for Europe — that we’ll “pay for summer holidays with winter lockdowns.”

“Every country was under pressure to lift restrictions soon as possible,” she said. “What’s happened is a muddling of economic and health objectives — we’re not doing either properly.”

Mathieu finds this frustrating since it was so predictable. “[It’s] exactly what happened the first time: People failed to think in terms of exponential growth.”

Tour de France enthusiasts cheer on participants in Meribel, France, on September 16.
Julien Goldstein/Getty Images
Members of Autonomous Paris Transport Authority are tasked to help people limit contact as they use the Paris subway. However, social distancing is difficult to enforce.
Julien Mattia/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

During phase one of the pandemic, coronavirus outbreaks proliferated exponentially, meaning an uptick in cases that appeared slow at first rapidly accelerated, outstripping the ability to manage them. Governments were forced to use the only instrument they had to deal with unchecked Covid-19 spread — one that didn’t require an exponential increase in doctors or hospital beds, Mathieu pointed out: the lockdown.

This time, the growth is happening even more slowly — we have an even better warning. Yet, Mathieu said, “There’s a weird benchmark thing going on where some people think there’s a threshold of terribleness and as long as we’re under that threshold, we shouldn’t worry about it” — even though it’s still exponential growth.

Take France, for example. While the country’s death rate is nowhere near the last peak, when 1,000 people were dying each day from Covid-19, “30 could soon be 50 or 100. And that’s dangerous for a mathematical reason … exponential growth.”

If hospitalizations in France keep increasing exponentially at the current rate of 30 percent per week, for example, it’ll take only eight weeks to reach April levels again. “For now, every line is going up exponentially in France — hospitalizations, ICU admissions, death — even though for now the absolute numbers are still very low.”

“We need to strike a balance,” he added, “between telling people it’s not the same thing [as the first coronavirus peak], it’s not as bad, it’s slower — but we should do something about it.”

Oliver Johnson, a professor of information theory and the director of the Institute for Statistical Science at the University of Bristol, is also worried that people have already forgotten about exponential growth. “Two, three weeks ago, [people were saying] it’s just cases [rising]. Now, people are saying it’s just hospitalizations. And it’s like okay well — what’s the next stage after that?”

Now we’re heading into winter, when social distancing is more challenging and people are more likely to gather indoors, where the virus has a much better chance of spreading. “We have reason to believe these kinds of viruses spread better when it’s cold. And if you start counting even to Christmas, it starts to look quite scary,” Johnson added. “My worry is that it’s a long winter.”


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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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Open Sourced logo

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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