If 95 percent of Americans consistently wore masks, nearly 130,000 lives could be saved between now and March 2021, a new study suggests.
Without measures like masks and social aloofness, the death toll from the U.S. coronavirus is likely to exceed 511,000 by then, the most recent study from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimates.
As of now, less than half of Americans say they ‘always’ wear a mask when in public.
Realistically, the researchers don’t expect masking to become nearly universal – it is still a subject of heated controversy in much of the US.
But it will be critical that states do not further relax restrictions such as social aloofness that aim to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. If you do, they warn, it could lead to more than a million Americans dying from COVID-19 by the end of February.
If no further restrictions are put in place and less than half of Americans continue to wear masks, the death toll from coronavirus is likely to reach 511,000 (purple) in March. If 95% of people wore a mask, almost 130,000 lives could be saved. The largest deaths (dark green) are predicted in past hard-hit states and in states with large contingents against masks
The pandemic has already claimed the lives of more than 220,000 Americans, and the toll is rising by an average of more than 760 deaths a day.
Most experts – including those at the IHME – predict that the number of deaths will only increase more sharply as we enter the colder winter months and go to meetings indoors where there is a greater risk of transmission.
President Trump has put his full focus for fighting the pandemic on the availability of treatments and vaccines he insists are imminent.
Meanwhile, he has ridiculed his campaign competitor, 77-year-old Vice President Joe Biden, for wearing ‘the biggest mask you’ve ever seen’ and taking social distance by ‘hiding in his basement’, including during the latest presidential debate from Thursday evening.
And earlier this week, President Trump falsely cited a CDC investigation as saying that 85 percent of people who wear masks contract the coronavirus.
Less than half of all Americans ‘always’ wear masks in public, but near-universal masking has been achieved in some New York areas (file)
Many Americans share his disdainful face covering. According to the IHME study, published Friday in Nature Medicine, more than 50 percent of people in the US wear a mask only occasionally or never.
Masks can reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission by up to 30 percent, several studies have shown.
But that hasn’t convinced all Americans that they’re worth it, and the IHME modellers hardly expect everyone in the US to develop a more favorable view of masks.
Regardless, by the end of 2020, masks could help stem a second wave of resurgence, while the need for frequent and widespread implementation of [social distancing measures]they wrote in the new study.
“Although 95 percent of mask use across the population appears to be a high threshold to achieve and maintain, this level has already been observed on a neighborhood scale in parts of New York.”
According to a report by the New York Times on Aug. 20, 99 percent of people in the Vlissingen neighborhood of Queens reported consistently wearing masks in public.
According to the University of Washington study, more than 60 percent of people in Virginia, Florida and California report wearing masks ‘always’.
And in some countries, the widespread adoption of masking has slowed and even effectively stopped its spread.
“The potential life-saving benefit of the increasing use of masks over the coming fall and winter cannot be overstated,” the University of Washington authors warned sternly.
“It is likely that US residents will have to choose between higher levels of mask use or run the risk of more stringent and economically damaging SDMs being re-deployed often; or, in the absence of either measure, face the reality of a rising death toll. ‘
Public health officials have a big task ahead of them to convince a largely reluctant population to wear them consistently – and for months to come.
Anti-lockdown and anti-mask protests persist in much of the US, even as the number of cases suddenly rises in 38 of the 50 states, a recent report found.
The report, published this month in the American Journal of Public Health, found that thousands of anti-pandemic restrictions on Facebook mimic the tactics of anti-vaxxers.
In particular, they viewed the wearing of masks and social distance not as issues of public health, but as issues of civil rights and freedoms.
In addition to the political polarization that now weighs heavily on the issue of masking, public health reports often reach the most vulnerable populations for the longest or not at all.
A CDC report published Friday found that poor U.S. counties with large minority populations and those with non-English native languages are about 38 times more likely to become “ hot spots ” of coronavirus outbreaks.
And part of the problem is that public health messages, such as guidance urging people to wear masks, are mostly English.