A widely respected health model has some grim predictions for the next few months’ trajectory of U.S. coronavirus deaths, but also offers some hope for how the country can save tens of thousands of lives, simply by wearing masks again.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle predicts that, between now and December 1, the U.S. will see over 107,000 additional deaths from COVID-19. But if everyone in the country agreed to wear masks in public spaces, that projection would be cut in half, researchers involved in the project said.
“We can save 50,000 lives simply by wearing masks. That’s how important behaviors are,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics at the University of Washington, who is part of the IHME project.
Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of University of Texas’s COVID-19 modeling consortium, agreed, telling The Associated Press that “behavior is really going to determine if, when and how sustainably the current wave subsides.” Meyers added that other mitigation efforts, including limiting social interactions and getting more people vaccinated, are ways Americans can “control” how many get sick in the coming weeks and months.
Taking action this week could help prevent many of the predicted deaths, the IHME model suggests. Daily fatality numbers are expected to increase to nearly 1,400 deaths per day by mid-September — then slowly, that number is expected to lessen over the next few months.
While getting Americans to mask up (particularly in indoor public spaces, where many localities are now requiring them) has been a significant challenge since the start of the pandemic, polling suggests that most Americans are already wearing their masks again when they leave their homes, and are supportive of local mandates, especially for school-age children who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines.
An Axios/Ipsos poll from earlier this month found that 69 percent of Americans support masking requirements in schools, while only 30 percent said they opposed such rules. A recent USA Today/Ipsos poll also found that 72 percent of Americans viewed local mask mandates as “a matter of health and safety,” rejecting the idea that they are an infringement on personal liberty.
When asked to describe their current masking habits, an Economist/YouGov poll from this past week showed that 55 percent of Americans were already wearing masks “always” or “most of the time” when they left their homes. However, a sizable proportion of respondents (45 percent) said they only wore masks “some of the time” or “never.”
A number of state governors, too, stand in the way of local governments being able to make their own rules on masking. Govs. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) and Ron DeSantis (R-Florida), for example, have both issued rules against school districts in their respective states from being able to require students and staff from having to wear masks to prevent the spread of the virus.
Several districts in both states have said they will not adhere to their governors’ orders, however, and have issued rules on masking anyway. The Biden administration has said that it will support these schools if and when they get saddled with financial penalties from their respective governors.