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Welcome to the May issue of Vox’s The Highlight

A mysterious outbreak was spreading at Girlstown. But what was making the children sick? Plus: How we look on Zoom, considering the right age for a president, and more.

Illustration of a nun in front of a blackboard teaching a class. Will Staehle for Epic and Vox
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In 2007 in Chalco, Mexico, a striking outbreak swept through a Catholic school known as Girlstown, which provided free schooling and board to some of the nation’s poorest girls. One by one, hundreds of students began complaining of paralysis in their legs, weakness, or visions. State and federal inspectors and epidemiologists were sent to test the environment: the food, the water, the soil. The girls prayed. An exorcist was brought in.

This month’s issue looks at the wild events in Chalco, more than a decade later. What really happened to the students of Girlstown? Was it an illness, or was something darker at play?

The story has particular poignance now because of another outbreak, one so widespread it has transformed how we live on a global scale.

Also in this month’s issue, we look at change amid the current pandemic, how it has forced some to fight hard to maintain tradition; required many to replace everyday social interactions with digital ones; and will leave some with lasting emotional scars.

On Zoom, women are grappling with a backslide in body positivity as this new world order requires video work calls even as the services on which some rely — the manicures, hair appointments, SoulCycle classes — have gone away.

The pandemic has also proven daunting for Brooklyn-based Imam Ahmed Ali Uzir as he attempts to give Muslim New Yorkers burials that follow tradition.

And finally, we look at how old a president should be, and hear from five psychologists on what getting out of quarantine might feel like — and how we should deal with the stress and fear.


Illustration of nuns looking at a schoolgirl amid cactuses and stars Will Staehle for Epic and Vox

The haunting of Girlstown

A mysterious outbreak. Hundreds of stricken schoolgirls. Was it an illness, or was something darker to blame?

by Daniel Hernandez


The inescapable pressure of being a woman on Zoom

Why are women bemoaning their hair, clothing choices, and more, even during a pandemic?

by Leslie Goldman


Illustration of the profile of Joe Biden with an arrow pointing toward him saying “He’s 77,” and the profile of Donald Trump with an arrow pointing toward him saying “He’s 73.” Zac Freeland/Vox

How old should a president be?

Americans are poised to elect the oldest commander in chief ever to serve. Does that matter?

by Charlotte Alter and Daniel J. Levitin


Imam Ahmed Ali jumps into a grave to finish digging it in preparation for the casket of William Johnson. Lori Hawkins for Vox

“I am considering myself an essential worker”: An imam on carrying out Muslim funerals amid the pandemic

As Covid-19 ravages families in New York, a religious leader offers comfort — and some semblance of tradition.

by Sarah Khan


Illustration of a person looking out the window at a cityscape. Beppe Giacobbe for Vox

How to fight fear and anxiety when quarantine ends

The coronavirus pandemic has done a number on our mental health. We asked five psychologists for advice on emerging from our homes to a changed world.

by Eleanor Cummins


Science & Health

Healing, a saga

Identities

For protesters, trauma lingers long after the marching ends

Features

The sad, predictable limits of America’s “economic recovery”

View all stories in The Highlight