Model: Wearing masks could save 67,000 lives by Dec. 1, recommends several states to up mandates

Model: Wearing masks could save 67,000 lives by Dec. 1
Posted at 10:57 AM, Aug 06, 2020

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation now projects that 67,000 American lives would be saved between now and December 1 by near universal wearing of masks.

The IHME released the updated model on Thursday. As part of the update, the IHME said that four states, Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, and South Carolina, have hit an important metric of a daily death rate of eight per one million residents, and that those states should re-impose statewide closures of non-essential businesses.

The IHME’s coronavirus projections have been frequently cited in the past by the White House’s coronavirus task force. The group uses state data along with other metrics to create projections on the number of coronavirus-related deaths throughout the US.

The model projects with inconsistent use of masks, the US death toll for the coronavirus will be up to 295,000 by December 1, an increase from the current figure of 158,000, per Johns Hopkins University data. The IHME’s projections drops considerably to 228,000 if masks are worn universally outside of the home.

IHME director Dr. Christopher Murray said at a news conference on Thursday that mask wearing mandates work, but communities also respond when they see cases are spreading.

“People do respond to the circumstances in their community,” Murray said. “Mandates have an important effect.”

One thing the model does not take into account is the use of therapeutics of a possible vaccine. Murray said that the IHME is closely monitoring the effectiveness of two potential therapeutics – remdesivir and dexamethasone – and may adjust future models as more is learned about those drugs.

The model expects the number of coronavirus-related deaths to ebb and flow into the fall, but begin to increase by November.

"November is a month we expect the spread to increase due to seasonality," Murray said. We are expecting considerable daily deaths. That pushes up our projections."

“We expect it rise later in the fall,” Murray added.

One cause for concern comes at the end of November when families begin to travel for holidays such as Thanksgiving.Murray said that while mask-wearing is not necessary when around family members of the same household, he said mask-wearing may be necessary for holiday gatherings. Murray said his family is taking the recommendation one step further, and is simply not gathering with extended relatives this fall.

What’s built into the IHME’s projection is that a number of states will need to implement stricter closures in order to slow the spread. As part of the IHME’s recommendation, states implement closures of non-essential businesses when there is a threshold of eight deaths a day per million. Also part of the modeling is based on 50% of schools being closed in each state for the upcoming year. Murray said with many schools opening or implementing hybrid models, more will be learned in the coming weeks on how easily the virus spreads within schools.

Recent measures in Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas has allowed a small decline in cases, but deaths in those states have not dropped off, according to Murray.

“We have been seeing cases peaking and hospitalizations peaking and deaths not quite yet peaking, but we expect them to peak in the near future but we don’t expect a sharp decline," Murray said.

To see a state-by-state breakdown of the IHME’s projections, click here.