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What we’ve learned so far from school reopenings in the US

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America is now in the middle of a big experiment: reopening schools and colleges during the Covid-19 pandemic. And so far, how things are going depends on which type of school is involved.

At the K-12 level, while there have been some outbreaks, reopenings haven’t led to the explosion of cases that some feared. Still, this comes with a big caveat: Many schools haven’t fully opened up yet, partly or entirely limiting teaching to virtual sessions. And for schools that have opened, we still don’t have very good data on K-12 schools’ reopenings, and there’s still a lot we simply don’t know about how kids transmit the coronavirus.

According to the Covid Monitor, there have been more than 52,000 cases in K-12 schools as of October 15. That’s significant, but a small portion of the 3 million coronavirus cases in the US since August. At the very least, K-12 schools don’t seem to be a primary driver of Covid-19 in the US right now.

“It hasn’t been as chaotic as I had anticipated,” Tara Smith, an epidemiologist at Kent State University, told me. “I expected things would be worse by now, but it’s been going all right so far in general.”

But at colleges and universities, reopening appears to be going much worse, with multiple big outbreaks over the past few months. The problem so far doesn’t seem to be transmission within classrooms so much as transmission outside of them — in dorms, fraternities, sororities, bars, restaurants, and other indoor spaces used to congregate, party, eat, and drink.

The outbreaks spawned almost immediately as colleges and universities reopened. In September, a USA Today analysis found college towns comprised 19 of the 25 biggest coronavirus outbreaks in the US. Outbreaks have forced some colleges and universities to change plans and permanently or temporarily move classes online across the country, from California to Michigan to North Carolina.

The college outbreaks have resulted in deaths. In September, 19-year-old Appalachian State University student Chad Dorrill died, despite friends and family describing him as a “super healthy” athlete with a lack of known preexisting conditions. Dorrill seemingly contracted the coronavirus while living off-campus — leading to neurological complications, potentially caused by undetected Guillain-Barré syndrome, that ultimately killed him.

“It’s not a hoax, that this virus really does exist,” Emma Crider, a student at Appalachian State, told the New York Times. “Before this, the overall mentality was ‘out of sight, out of mind.’”

Some colleges and universities are trying to prevent and counter these outbreaks with extremely aggressive testing regimes, testing each student on campus up to twice a week. The hope is that this will catch any new coronavirus cases before they lead to massive outbreaks — mirroring the kind of strategy employed in Germany, New Zealand, and South Korea to control their respective epidemics. But it’s too early to say how this will work in a higher education setting, especially in communities that have big Covid-19 epidemics outside their schools.

How this all plays out could help decide whether America sees a much-feared coronavirus surge this fall and winter. Coupled with the holidays bringing people together and changing weather pushing some parts of the country indoors, experts worry that school reopenings could lead to a big spike in Covid-19 in the coming months. While the holidays and weather remain in play, mitigating the spread from schools could stop at least one point of concern.

There are consequences beyond Covid-19, too. There’s already solid evidence that remote learning isn’t good enough to make up for the benefits of in-person teaching, meaning kids fall further and further behind as long as schools don’t fully reopen. And when kids aren’t sent off to school, it’s tremendously disruptive to entire families — forcing parents to stay home, often having to supervise their kids to make sure they’re actually logging on to their classes.

“We’re really not acknowledging how much work and strain it is on families when you have a kindergartner doing virtual learning,” Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist, told me.

A failure to get Covid-19 under control and reopen schools, then, doesn’t just mean more coronavirus cases and deaths — on top of the more than 210,000 deaths the US has already seen — but impacts that will cascade over the short and long term across American society.

K-12 reopenings seem to be going fine overall, but there’s a lot we don’t know

It’s still unclear how many K-12 schools, exactly, have fully reopened. Given the country’s sprawling network of school districts, each under varying levels of state and local control, we simply don’t have a good way to track what every school is doing at a national level.

According to Education Week, four states have ordered schools to reopen. Seven, along with Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico, have mandated partial or full closures. The remaining 39 states have by and large left it up to individual school districts or local governments to decide.

Schools can try to fully restart in-person learning, go remote only, or follow a hybrid model. Among those allowing in-person teaching, some require masks for teachers and students. Some are putting students into cohorts or pods — meaning they have to stick to the same group of peers while in school. Some have spread out desks or limited capacity in classes, and have shifted schedules to reduce how many people are in the building at any moment. A few have taken more aggressive measures, like improving ventilation systems in schools, holding at least some classes outside, or instituted aggressive testing programs.

So far, there doesn’t seem to have been a massive surge of Covid-19 due to K-12 schools reopening for in-person instruction. Confirmed cases in K-12 schools make up less than 2 percent of all cases reported in the US since August.

One caveat: A lot of states and districts still aren’t reporting Covid-19 cases in K-12 schools. The Covid Monitor, as an independent group, collects public and media reports on top of the official data to try to fill in the gaps. But it’s certainly missing a lot of cases, meaning its number is a minimum estimate.

Still, it certainly seems like the massive epidemics many feared haven’t happened (at least yet). A USA Today analysis of Florida’s school reopenings, for example, concluded, “Among the counties seeing surges in overall cases, it’s college-age adults — not schoolchildren — driving the trend.” In California, officials similarly reported that they so far had found no link between K-12 schools reopening and increased coronavirus transmission.

“There are some reasons to be hopeful,” Katherine Auger, a health policy researcher at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, told me. “We aren’t hearing of huge outbreak stories in the news.”

Experts cautioned, however, that the results are early. And they shouldn’t be used as an excuse to open recklessly or without proper safety measures like social distancing, masking, testing, and contact tracing.

Part of the problem is there’s still a lot we don’t know about K-12 schools’ ability to spread Covid-19. For one, we still don’t know for certain how much children, especially younger kids, spread the coronavirus.

What we do know with more certainty is that there seem to be differences in how sick kids get from Covid-19, depending on age. A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that adolescents ages 12 to 17 were roughly twice as likely as children ages 5 to 11 years old to have a confirmed coronavirus infection. Whether that means younger children are less likely to get and transmit the coronavirus, or merely less likely to develop significant symptoms and get tested, is still an open question.

The testing component is particularly important. As the New York Times reported, it can be very difficult to get a coronavirus test for younger children. If kids can’t get tested, then new infections simply aren’t going to get caught and recorded. Some schools are taking steps to test their staff and students, but many are not — blinding them to potential outbreaks.

Still, some experts have cited data like this to argue that at least K-3, K-5, or K-8 schools could open safely, with few, if any, serious outbreaks. “Those are the kids who need the in-person learning, need the social interaction,” Auger said. “It makes sense developmentally that college students and high school students would be able to learn more readily in a remote setting.”

One concern is that, even if the coronavirus doesn’t seem to transmit among children or hurt them as much, the same isn’t necessarily true for teachers. That fear has led a lot of teachers, backed by powerful unions, to resist full or even partial reopenings.

Colleges and universities seem to be going worse — with some exceptions

Colleges and universities have taken a variety of approaches in reopening. Some are trying to fully reopen, many are sticking to online only, and others are doing a hybrid model. Some allow students to live on campus, although typically at a reduced capacity. Many of the schools are taking a fairly hands-off approach to what students do — merely recommending social distancing and masking — although some have adopted very aggressive testing and masking regimes.

So far, the experience has ranged from mostly fine to outright disasters, with major outbreaks forcing some universities and colleges across the country to move classes back online temporarily or permanently, sometimes after just weeks of reopening.

The outbreaks don’t appear to originate in classrooms, but rather in places where students tend to work, socialize, and party. A recent CDC study backed this up, concluding that Covid-19 clusters in an unnamed North Carolina university were likely fueled by “student gatherings and congregate living settings, both on and off campus.”

To put it another way, the outbreaks seem to be coming from dorms, fraternities, sororities, bars, and restaurants. It’s in these kinds of indoor spaces, where college students work, party, eat, and drink, that Covid-19 has spread. Experts have described large parties, indoor dining, and bars as especially risky: People are close together for long periods of time; they can’t wear masks as they eat or drink; the air can’t dilute the virus like it can outdoors; and alcohol could lead people to drop their guards further.

This was predictable: As Smith said, “This is what you would expect from college students.”

For young people, a big consideration is that Covid-19 is simply less threatening to them than to older adults. That may make them feel like they can party and socialize without major consequences.

But young people can still get sick and die from Covid-19 — and some have. Young people also eventually socialize with their parents, grandparents, teachers, and other older peers. Another CDC study found this to be a consistent trend over the summer: Outbreaks would start among the young, eventually spreading to older populations — leading to many more cases and deaths as a result. That could be particularly bad for colleges and universities if students carry the virus around the country when they go back home for holidays or breaks, potentially triggering epidemics not just locally at or near their campuses but nationwide.

To avoid such outbreaks, some colleges and universities have embraced very aggressive testing regimes — testing all students as they get on campus, then testing each of them two times a week after. By constantly testing, these schools hope to stop a few cases from turning into a big outbreak.

On top of testing and tracing, colleges and universities have taken various steps to get their students to follow other basic Covid-19 precautions, such as social distancing and masking. Some universities have outright prohibited their students, with the threat of suspension or expulsion, from going to parties or other gatherings, or even interacting with anyone outside of their dorm and classes.

Whether all of that works remains to be seen. For testing and tracing, the early results seem promising, with several of the most aggressive schools reporting few, if any, Covid-19 cases. And it follows the kind of model that’s helped other places, including whole nations, control their epidemics.

Some experts are worried that the aggressive testing regimes could lead to a false sense of security. They pointed to the White House, where very aggressive testing has been used to justify relaxing on social distancing and masking. That seemed to contribute to the ongoing outbreak at the White House, spanning from President Donald Trump to a presidential valet.

Aggressive testing “is not a replacement for all the other measures,” Lauren Ancel Meyers, a mathematical biologist at the University of Texas Austin, told me. “It’s just a needed addition to armament of intervention strategies that we have.”

A recent New York Times story showed that false sense of security in action, reporting that “students like Logan Morrione can wander on and off the Waterville, Maine, [Colby College] campus, attend most classes in person and even do without masks in some social situations.”

Truly reopening schools requires getting Covid-19 under control

Setting aside whatever is happening within classrooms, the biggest problem for schools is that America still has a lot of coronavirus cases. In the past week, the US reported more than double the cases per person a day as Canada and at least 100 times the cases per person a day as South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.

With so many cases across the US, and especially in educational settings where students are coming in from around the country, there are simply more chances that the virus will end up on campus. Meyers emphasized this is the No. 1 factor any school should consider before reopening.

This is why many experts spent much of the summer calling for America to suppress the coronavirus: If cases were driven to a low enough level, that could allow schools, from K-12 to colleges and universities, to open much more safely.

But despite experts’ warnings, many states reopened bars and indoor dining — fueling large outbreaks. Some places were slow to mandate masks, with 17 states still not requiring them. The US, in effect, prioritized a false sense of normalcy and the reopening of bars and indoor dining over the reopening of schools. Universities are seeing this directly as bars and indoor dining lead to a surge of coronavirus cases on campus.

“It’s something we really should have seen coming,” Popescu said.

The bad outcomes within some schools could set up the US for a broader vicious cycle: If colleges and universities lead to Covid-19 spikes, they could make it more difficult for K-12 schools to reopen. That, some experts argued, would be a backward outcome. “It’s much easier to do virtual learning for universities and for high schools,” Popescu argued.

So it’s the problem of community transmission, experts say, that must take priority over all other safety precautions within schools. As long as the US doesn’t get its whole coronavirus epidemic under control — whether due to incompetence from the Trump administration or other officials — schools are, just like other public settings, going to be at risk for Covid-19.

That’s not to say schools can’t take steps to make themselves safer. They can still embrace social distancing, masking, testing, and tracing. They can try to have fewer people on their campuses — by staggering schedules, or reducing the numbers of people in classrooms or dorms. They can encourage or mandate students to only socialize within a small group of people — by establishing a pod or cohorting, or by limiting students to people that they live or go to class with. They could try to improve ventilation in buildings, or hold more classes and events outside.

But these precautions aren’t going to be consistently effective if the virus is raging in the broader community.

If this isn’t taken seriously, it could, when paired with the holidays and people going inside to avoid the cold, contribute to a surge in coronavirus cases this fall and winter. America’s already bad Covid-19 epidemic, then, would get even worse.


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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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