By Dennis Thompson
FRIDAY, Oct. 23, 2020 (HealthDay News) — A resurgence of the new coronavirus is bearing down upon the United States, with hundreds of thousands more deaths likely to occur over the next few months, according to one of the nation’s top epidemic modeling teams.
But there’s one thing everyone can do to forestall the surge and save lives — wear a face mask whenever you’re out in public.
The model suggests that total COVID-19 deaths in the United States could exceed 500,000 by the end of February under the most likely scenario, according to findings published online Oct. 23 in the journal Nature Medicine.
However, as many as 130,000 of those deaths could be avoided if some social distancing measures were reinstated and 95% of Americans always don a mask when they’re out and about, the researchers found.
“Expanding mask use can be one of the easy wins for the United States,” said senior researcher Dr. Christopher Murray. He’s director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle. “It can both delay the re-imposition of social distancing mandates and can save many, many lives.”
A recent HealthDay/Harris Poll shows there’s reason for hope in that regard. More than nine in 10 U.S. adults (93%) said they sometimes, often or always wear a mask or face covering when they leave their home and are unable to socially distance, including more than seven in 10 (72%) who said they always do so.
The new COVID-19 forecast predicts that a surge in the pandemic is inevitable. This week’s increase in cases likely was “the turn,” Murray said.
“We are heading into a very substantial fall/winter surge. The idea that the pandemic is going away, we do not believe is true,” Murray said. “The turn this week where deaths and cases are now going up at the national level is very much in line with what the paper is suggesting.”
More than 1 million COVID-19 deaths could be expected to occur by late February if no lockdowns or social distancing mandates are re-imposed as infection rates surge, the researchers forecast.
If governors gradually re-impose social distancing mandates, there likely will be more than 511,000 total COVID-19 deaths by the end of February, the model predicts.
This is a more likely scenario, Murray said.
“Governors are going to re-impose mandates when things get quite bad because they’re going to try to avoid hospital systems being overwhelmed,” Murray said, and those mandates will change the trajectory of the pandemic.
“As the reality of this fall/winter surge finally kicks in in the U.S., I think we will shift the discussion to what are the set of less-stringent mandates that could be used to at least put the brakes on transmission more than just expanding mask use,” Murray said.
Under this scenario, the states hardest-hit by infections would be Arizona, New Jersey and Louisiana, the researchers predict.
A scenario in which nearly everyone wears