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What Biden can do to fix Trump’s Covid-19 mess

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If Joe Biden beats Donald Trump this November and ends up in the Oval Office in January, he’ll quickly face one of the gravest challenges any president has seen in the modern era: Hundreds of thousands of Americans will be dead from Covid-19. Public trust in scientific and government institutions will be depleted. If the fall and winter goes as badly as some experts fear, coronavirus outbreaks may be at a new peak. And if a vaccine gets approved, it will still need to be distributed to hundreds of millions of Americans quickly and equitably.

Biden’s immediate job would be fixing the mess left behind by his predecessor — one that’s left America with one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world and, as of September, more daily Covid-19 deaths than all but two developed countries.

Experts say these problems are fixable, but fixing them will largely come down to political will. The policy solutions are things that we’ve all heard about throughout the pandemic: aggressive testing and tracing to contain new outbreaks. Mask-wearing to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Economic support for those affected by the epidemic, at once providing financial support and making social distancing more feasible.

“It’s not rocket science. It’s not that we need some new thing that hasn’t been thought of before,” Jen Kates, director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told me. “There are things that have been done in some cases, or can be done. But if there was a stronger, coordinated federal role … that could really make a difference. It’s happened in other countries.”

Another part of Biden’s job will be to, in effect, repair Americans’ trust in science — bolstering public health institutions like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), widely considered the gold standard of public health agencies in the world before the pandemic.

Supporters of Joe Biden rally outside the “Latinos for Trump Roundtable” event in Doral, Florida, on September 25.
Marco Bello/AFP via Getty Images
Supporters gather for President Trump’s reelection campaign rally in Gilford, New Hampshire, on September 22.
Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Biden will also have to prepare the country for the rollout of a coronavirus vaccine that could take months if not years. The challenge here isn’t just discovering a safe and effective vaccine; many experts, in fact, are hopeful the world will do that by the end of 2020. The difficulty will be figuring out how to quickly produce and distribute up to hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine to the general public — an unprecedented effort. That will also require persuading the public to take the vaccine, which could be particularly challenging coming off the heels of a highly contentious presidential election.

Biden, for his part, has vowed to do much of this. His website promises to adopt a masking mandate and boost testing and tracing. His campaign has vowed to “listen to science” and “restore trust, transparency, common purpose, and accountability to our government.” And he’s promised to “plan for the effective, equitable distribution of treatments and vaccines.”

Trump could do all of this, too. But there’s very little faith among experts that Trump will change his current approach to the pandemic, especially if he wins reelection. Instead, he’ll likely continue doing what he’s done: deliberately downplaying the pandemic, demanding states reopen far too quickly, punting testing and tracing to local and state governments with more limited resources, mocking masking, and continuing to try to politicize the CDC and FDA.

That failed response helps explain the US’s current Covid-19 outbreak, leading the country to more than 200,000 deaths from the disease — by far the highest recorded death toll in the world. When controlling for population, the US hasn’t had the highest death rate for Covid-19, but it’s among the top 20 percent for developed nations, and has seven times the death rate as the median developed country. If the US had the same Covid-19 death rate as, say, Canada, more than 120,000 more Americans would likely be alive today.

That damage can’t be reversed. Those 200,000 deaths are on the US’s record forever. But Biden, at least, could take actions that would help prevent America’s outbreak from getting even worse.

1) Implement policies we know work: Testing, tracing, masks, and social distancing

There are problems in the world with really difficult or unknowable answers. That’s not as true for Covid-19: While there’s a lot about the coronavirus we’re still learning, there are many policy approaches that we know work and the US hasn’t really embraced. This is, then, more a matter of will than knowledge — which is something that Biden, especially if he has a sympathetic Democrat-controlled Congress, could address.

Testing is among those proven policy approaches. When paired with contact tracing, more testing can help public health officials detect outbreaks, get the infected to isolate and the infected’s close contacts to quarantine, and use broader public health measures as needed. This is an approach that has worked well in many other developed countries, from Germany to South Korea to New Zealand.

The US, however, has struggled to build up its testing capacity. It’s made big improvements since the start of the pandemic, but testing hasn’t increased above 1 million tests a day — far lower than experts say is needed, given the country’s large epidemic overall. As a result, the percentage of tests coming back positive, which experts use to measure testing capacity, stubbornly remains at 5 percent or more; it should be, experts suggest, far below 5 percent and preferably below even 3 percent. It can still take days to get test results back, and that can spike to weeks if demand, due to a new outbreak, is high.

According to experts, part of the problem is the US never fundamentally fixed supply line problems — with shortages popping up for swabs, reagents, testing kits, and other needed equipment throughout the pandemic. There was also an economic disincentive to building out capacity too much: If a lab, for example, massively scales up its coronavirus testing, but the pandemic is over in a few years, it will be left with a lot of infrastructure it doesn’t use or get revenue from, a huge money sink.

A Biden administration could address these problems, using the powers of the federal government to coordinate the supply line, maintain its stability, and guarantee that any businesses and organizations will be made whole for investments into coronavirus testing. To do all of that, the country needs a national plan — which it currently lacks.

Health care workers administer free coronavirus tests in Framingham, Massachusetts, on September 8.
Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Testing sites for Covid-19 in Los Angeles County were closed for Labor Day weekend due to extreme heat.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

There’s a chance the supply problem fixes itself. With the development and mass production of new antigen tests that don’t have to go through a lab and hospitals, Americans could get access to many more tests that also return results within minutes instead of hours or days. Compared to the hold-ups with the current PCR tests that go through labs or hospitals, it would be a welcome change.

Still, there would be remaining questions about how to deploy and distribute those new tests based on equity and need — questions that a national plan could address.

After that, the US would still face another problem: how to actually use those tests. That’s where contact tracing comes in, as “disease detectives” track down newly infected people and their close contacts to convince them to isolate and quarantine. Earlier this year, Crystal Watson, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, projected that the US would need at least 100,000 contact tracers. She estimated the US still has fewer than half of that number.

Since Watson’s original estimate, Covid-19 outbreaks in the US have also gotten much worse and more widespread. That presents two major problems: First, the US now needs even more contact tracers than she originally estimated. Second, it’s now likely impossible for contact tracing to really bring down the epidemic on its own, because there are just way too many cases for even a massive team of tracers to track down and contain.

So while a large federal investment in a contact tracing workforce and equipment could help, it probably won’t be enough. “We really have to take other measures to bring down transmission in order for contact tracing to be effective,” Watson told me.

Among the other measures: masks. The scientific evidence for masking has gotten much stronger since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with multiple studies linking the widespread use of masks and new mask mandates to drops in Covid-19 cases and deaths. One study in Health Affairs suggested that, with caveats that this is just an approximation, “230,000-450,000 COVID-19 cases may have been averted on the basis of when states passed these mandates.” If mandates were nationwide instead of left to a minority of states at the time, it stands to reason the impact would have been much bigger.

Whether the federal government could impose a mask mandate on its own gets into legally dicey territory. But a Biden administration and Congress could use financial incentives to encourage cities and states to adopt masking mandates and provide extra resources to enforce them. That could get the remaining 16 states without a mask mandate, or at least some of the municipalities in those states, to adopt the policy.

Just having a president who is unequivocal about the benefits of masking and consistently wears a mask in public, experts claimed, would also signal to the rest of the country that this is the right thing to do. It’s “just the public image of a responsible adult doing what they’re supposed to do,” Cedric Dark, an emergency medicine physician at the Baylor College of Medicine, told me.

Even with all these measures in place, the US will have to continue social distancing to some degree. No one wants this, but, depending on how bad fall and winter outbreaks get, some cities, counties, and states may have to bring back lockdowns.

The federal government can provide clearer guidance on how and when to do this. It can also, with Congress’s backing, pass legislation that financially supports people affected by lockdowns. A commonly cited idea is a bailout for bars, restaurants, and other businesses, which would not only help keep these employers and their employees afloat but make the negatives of closing down much more tolerable and, therefore, make closing down easier and more likely if it’s deemed necessary to fight the coronavirus.

Ultimately, this could benefit the economy by mitigating the need for such harsh social distancing efforts. A preliminary study from the 1918 flu pandemic found that cities that took more aggressive action against outbreaks back then emerged stronger economically. Germany and others have similarly seen their restaurant businesses recover by controlling the coronavirus. As Watson put it, “In order for our economy to recover, we really do need to resource our public health response more effectively.”

Again, none of this is really new. The experts I spoke with often joked that we were having the exact same conversations now that we had back in the spring and summer. But the US hasn’t fully committed to these kinds of policies — and a Biden administration could.

2) Rebuild trust in science and public health institutions

Under Trump, and particularly throughout this pandemic, trust in many institutions has dwindled. This has applied even to American institutions that were in the past considered the best of the best in the world for public health, such as the CDC and FDA.

The country needs “a long campaign to get people to trust science again,” Dark said. “My colleagues don’t trust anything coming out of the CDC now, due to how politicized it’s been.”

A report from the Covid-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States, based on a 50-state survey on Covid-19, captured the trends: Across the country, trust in “doctors and hospitals,” “scientists and researchers,” and especially the CDC has fallen. Trust in all of these is still relatively high — much higher than trust in either Biden or Trump — but it’s a concerning trend. Among different political and demographic groups, trust can be even lower, too.

A chart showing public trust in different institutions. Covid-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States

“Six months ago, the FDA and CDC were shorthands for gold-standard scientific advice,” Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told me. That’s changed, he lamented.

Some of this reflects genuine failures by these institutions. The CDC and FDA both played roles in the US’s testing problems — the CDC by botching its tests, and the FDA dragging its feet in approving more testing from private and independent labs — leading to what’s been widely called a “lost month” for testing in February. The CDC was also slow to recommend masks, then failed to admit to messing up and explain its about-face on the issue. The FDA, meanwhile, has acted in ways that seem politically motivated rather than based on rigorous evidence, such as when it allowed, before warning against, hydroxychloroquine, which was always unproven but Trump spoke favorably about.

Although the CDC and FDA are supposed to stand above partisan politics to help maintain their credibility, Trump and his administration have actively meddled in their affairs and work. Trump and his political cronies have, for example, repeatedly pushed the CDC to do things solely to support Trump’s unproven claims about Covid-19 — forcing the agency to briefly recommend less testing, loosen its guidelines for reopening, and delay studies that contradict the president. All of that has called into question just how independent the CDC truly is.

Fixing this will take time, but it’s fairly straightforward: Biden and the political actors in his administration should back off, allowing scientists to take a leading role in these agencies and the US’s Covid-19 response in general.

Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean of the Emory University School of Medicine, put this simply: “Pay attention to science. Let the science guide the response, not the politics.”

That includes giving these institutions control of the public messaging. While Trump appointed Vice President Mike Pence to lead the White House’s coronavirus task force, Biden could put a scientist or public health official in charge. While Trump sidelined the CDC after Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, warned in February that “disruption to everyday life might be severe” due to Covid-19, Biden could allow the agency and its experts to speak plainly and truthfully to the public.

CDC Director Robert Redfield speaks during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee reviewing coronavirus response efforts on September 16.
Andrew Harnik/Getty Images

That should also translate to the policy level. When the CDC makes recommendations, the Biden administration shouldn’t, as Trump has, undermine the guidelines or force the agency to change them. When scientists are recommending a pivot in the country’s approach, that should be seriously considered, even if it contradicts what the administration said or did in the past, while clearly and transparently explaining why a change is needed.

“The CDC has the expertise to lead us in this pandemic,” Jorge Salinas, an epidemiologist at the University of Iowa, told me. “We just need to ask them.”

The idea is to prove to the public time and time again that the country’s response to Covid-19 isn’t driven by politics but by science. It’s an admittedly difficult task for a country that’s consumed by politics and polarization at every level, but it’s something, experts said, that’s simply necessary to improve America’s response to the coronavirus.

3) Prepare the country for a months-long rollout of a vaccine

If we get a little lucky, there’s a chance that the world will finally have a proven, safe, and effective coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year. It would be an incredible achievement — the fastest turnaround on a vaccine for a major disease in human history.

But that won’t be the end. After a vaccine makes it through the last rounds of research necessary to get FDA approval, it’ll have to be distributed to potentially more than 300 million people in the US alone. Given that some of these vaccines will require two doses, that means manufacturing hundreds of millions of doses of the medication — something that the country simply hasn’t done at the scale and speed that the pandemic demands.

There’s already a lot of work, from both governments and private actors like Bill Gates, to manufacture all those doses. It’s possible, even likely, that the current work isn’t enough — and that will demand more action and more funds by a Biden administration.

After that, there will be tough questions about who gets priority. There’s a consensus that first responders and health care workers, at least, should get a vaccine first. Beyond that, there are genuinely difficult questions: Should older adults get priority because they’re more vulnerable? Should essential workers? What about younger people, who seem to be behind the country’s most recent large outbreaks? “It gets complicated,” Jha acknowledged.

Another element will be persuading the public to actually take a vaccine. If a vaccine is 50 to 70 percent effective, as appears likely at first, experts argue that close to 100 percent of the population will need to take one to reach true herd immunity. That will be a tall order as the country deals not just with traditional, unscientific anti-vaxxer sentiments but also more nuanced concerns about whether the current politicized, fast process coronavirus vaccines are going through can really test adequately for safety. Different surveys have found a third to half of Americans don’t plan to or don’t know if they’ll get a coronavirus vaccine.

“It does seem like there has been less of a push to actually come up with a really good communications plan,” Watson said, “but also to just have a general dialogue with people as you go along about what the process has been like for creating a vaccine, what standards have been upheld, and the results of the safety and efficacy trials.”

President Trump has deliberately downplayed the pandemic, mocked wearing masks, and has continued to try to politicize the CDC and FDA.
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
If Joe Biden becomes president, he’ll face one of the gravest challenges any president has faced in the modern era with Covid-19.
Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Breaking through those concerns will require research and surveys to subsequently build a massive communications campaign that will try to push people to get vaccinated. This will be a huge undertaking, and it might not even work, depending on if a new administration can rebuild trust in science and depoliticize its public health institutions.

All of this could take a long time. Experts were unanimous in arguing that getting a vaccine by the end of 2020, should that happen, won’t be the end of the pandemic. They said that getting a vaccine out there could take at least months. Some spoke in terms of years, well into 2022 or 2023. “President Biden and Vice President [Kamala] Harris, should they be in office, should understand they will be dealing with Covid for much of their first term,” Jha said. “It will continue to come up as an issue in the next midterms. It’s not going away.”

To put it another way: If Biden takes office, it’s possible a vaccine will finally present some kind of finish line in this pandemic. But we might quickly realize that the finish line is still a few months or years away. And that will make the work of preparing the country for a vaccine — and all the other steps needed to contain Covid-19 in the months and years ahead — necessary. With hundreds of thousands of Americans already dead, it’s the most important task Biden should prepare for right now.


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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.

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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