New IHME COVID-19 forecasts see nearly 300,000 deaths by December

Sept. 3, 2020

America’s COVID-19 death toll is expected to reach nearly 300,000 by December 1; however, consistent mask-wearing could save about 70,000 lives, according to new data and a press release from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine.

The US forecast totals 295,011 deaths by December. Currently, 158,000 have died and the IHME is projecting approximately 137,000 more deaths. However, if 95 percent of the people in the U.S. were to wear masks when leaving their homes, that total number would decrease to 228,271 deaths, a drop of 49 percent, and more than 66,000 lives would be saved.

Masks and other protective measures against transmission of the virus are essential to staying COVID-free, but people’s inconsistent use of those measures is a serious problem, said IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray.

“We’re seeing a rollercoaster in the United States,” Murray said. “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.”

IHME’s model assumes that states will reimpose a series of mandates, including non-essential business closures and stay-at-home orders, when the daily death rate reaches 8 per million. This threshold is based on data regarding when states or communities imposed mandates in March and April and implies that many states will have to reimpose mandates.

However, if mask use is increased to 95 percent, the re-imposition of stricter mandates could be delayed six to eight weeks on average. The model also assumes that that 50 percent of school districts in each state will opt for online instruction only for the 2020–2021 school year.

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