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June 26, 2020 -- An updated coronavirus model forecasts that 179,106 people in the U.S. will die from COVID-19 by Oct. 1 unless more people wear face coverings.

The new projection, released Wednesday, comes from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. If 95% of Americans wore masks in public, the number of deaths could drop to 146,000.

“There is no doubt that even as states open up, the United States is still grappling with a large epidemic on a course to increase beginning in late August and intensifying in September,” Christopher Murray, the IHME director, said in a statement about the updated forecast.

On June 15, the IHME model projected 201,129 deaths by Oct. 1. Although new coronavirus cases have been increasing in more than 20 states in recent weeks, hospitalizations and deaths haven’t yet increased at the same rate. That trend could change in coming weeks, according to the IHME statement.

The new projections also include factors such as social distancing and mask wearing at the current reported rates. Without these measures, Florida and Texas could reach eight deaths per 1 million residents per day by Oct. 1.

The model projects about 614 deaths each day nationwide on Oct. 1. If 95% of people wear masks, though, that number could drop to 87 deaths per day, according to the model.

“People need to know that wearing masks can reduce transmission of the virus by as much as 50%, and those who refuse are putting their lives, their families, their friends and their communities at risk,” Murray added.

In states that have reported record highs in the past week, such as Florida and Texas, more cases are being detected in younger adults in their 20s and 30s. They face a lower risk of death than older adults, Murray said, which also influences the projection of deaths for this fall.

“It remains to be seen how this will unfold over the next few weeks,” he said. “If transmission continues to go up, we may see increasing infections in at-risk populations.”

The U.S. has now reported more than 2.4 million coronavirus cases and 122,370 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The IHME update also projects deaths for each state, including the number of deaths with and without 95% of people wearing masks. Moving forward, the institute will use additional scenarios to project deaths, such as potential mandates in the fall when deaths may increase in certain states, Murray said.

“States are attempting the difficult balancing act of preserving health and enabling economic recovery,” he said. It will be important to recognize that “solutions are not uniform across communities.”

WebMD Health News Brief

Sources

IHME, “COVID-19 Projections, last updated June 24, 2020.”

IHME, “New IHME COVID-19 Model Projects Nearly 180,000 US Deaths.”

Johns Hopkins University, “COVID-19 Dashboard.”

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