Story at a glance
- Researchers from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimate nearly 130,000 lives could be saved if 95 percent of the U.S. wore masks in public.
- The analysis also estimates more than 95,000 lives could be spared if mask compliance was only at 85 percent.
- Public health officials have stressed for months the importance of mask use in slowing the spread of COVID-19 as the race for a safe and effective vaccine continues.
The U.S. could avoid a devastating number of additional COVID-19 deaths if more Americans wear masks to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, a new analysis published in Nature Medicine projects.
Researchers from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimate in an analysis published Friday that the coronavirus death toll in the U.S. could surpass more than half a million by March without universal mask-wearing — defined as 95 percent of the population wearing face coverings in public. The total death count would hit the grim milestone even if physical distancing mandates remained in place in every state.
With universal mask-wearing, however, nearly 130,000 lives could be saved. The analysis also estimates more than 95,000 lives could be spared if mask compliance was only at 85 percent. Researchers analyzed the number of cases, testing rates, mask use and cellphone data from the first confirmed case in each state through Sept. 21, then estimated the death toll until March 2021 for each state with or without social distancing and mask use.
“The potential life-saving benefit of increasing mask use in the coming fall and winter cannot be overstated. It is likely that US residents will need to choose between higher levels of mask use or risk the frequent redeployment of more stringent and economically damaging [social distancing mandates]; or, in the absence of either measure, face a reality of a rising death toll,” the analysis states.
Public health officials have stressed for months the importance of mask use in slowing the spread of COVID-19 as the race for a safe and effective vaccine continues. Officials estimate a viable vaccine likely won’t be broadly available until several months into 2021.
The projection comes as the U.S. is currently experiencing a new wave of infections heading into the colder months and flu season. The Washington Post reports the average number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has increased in at least 38 states over the last week, and 14 states have reported new highs in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
The U.S. has confirmed more than 8.4 million cases and more than 223,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
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