Story at a glance
- The model projects 295,011 coronavirus-related deaths by Dec. 1.
- More 66,000 lives would be saved if 95 percent of people in the U.S. wore masks when in public starting today.
- More than 159,000 people in the U.S. have died from the coronavirus.
The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) updated model estimates there will be nearly 300,000 coronavirus deaths by Dec. 1, but consistent mask-wearing could save more than 66,000 lives.
The IHME projects 295,011 coronavirus-related deaths by the beginning of December, approximately 136,000 more than the current U.S. tally of more than 159,000.
The new IHME estimate released Tuesday says, however, that if 95 percent of people in the U.S. starting today wear masks while in public the total number of deaths would drop to 228,271 — a 49 percent drop.
IHME Director Christopher Murray said preventive measures such as masks are critical to slowing the spread of the coronavirus, but inconsistent use among the public is a serious problem.
“We’re seeing a rollercoaster in the United States,” Murray said in a statement.
“It appears that people are wearing masks and socially distancing more frequently as infections increase, then after a while as infections drop, people let their guard down and stop taking these measures to protect themselves and others - which, of course, leads to more infections. And the potentially deadly cycle starts over again,” Murray said.
According to Murray, there appears to be fewer transmissions of the virus in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, but he said deaths are rising and will continue to do so for the next week or two.
Murray said the drop in infections appears to be driven by the combination of local mandates for masks, bar and restaurant closures and more responsible behavior.
The IHME statistical analysis suggests that having a mask mandate with no penalties increases mask wearing by 8 percent, while a mandate with penalties increases mask use by 15 percent.
“These efforts, along with media coverage and public information efforts by state and local health agencies and others, have led to an increase in the US rate of mask wearing by about 5 percentage points since mid-July,” Murray said. He explained mask-wearing increases have been greater in states with more widespread epidemics.
The model assumes many states will reimpose a series of mandates, such as nonessential business closures and stay-at-home orders, when daily death rates hit 8 per million. But if mask use is increased to 95 percent, the reimposition of stricter mandates could be pushed back 6 to 8 weeks on average.