Despite the grim projection, deaths could decrease significantly if 95 percent of Americans wear a mask

By Maria Pasquini
August 07, 2020 01:20 PM
Medical workers at busy hospital
Erwin Jacob Miciano/AP/Shutterstock

While the United States hopes for a slowing of devastation from the novel coronavirus, a new model predicts that the amount of deaths in the country could double by the end of the year.

The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, whose models are included in the CDC’s weekly list of national forecasts, predicted this week that by December, the death toll in the United States could reach 295,011.

So far, there have been more than 4.8 million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and at least 160,157 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University database.

However, the total amount of deaths could be much higher — or lower — depending on how many states and individuals continue working to prevent the spread of the virus.

According to the IHME model, if states significantly ease existing mandates, the amount of deaths could near 400,000 by the end of the year — while if 95 percent of Americans wear face masks daily, around 66,000 lives could be saved.

"You get this really huge effect that accumulates over time," IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray told CNN this week. "Every individual that is wearing the mask is putting the brakes on transmission by 40%. That starts to add up."

Should the United States reach the 300,000 threshold, COVID-19 will likely be the third leading cause of death in the country for 2020, behind heart disease and cancer, NPR reported.

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One of the reasons for the grim projection numbers is a pattern the IHME has noticed throughout the country.

"When things get bad in their community, individuals are more likely to wear a mask, more likely to be cautious. And that helps put the brakes on transmission,” Murray told NPR.

However, as numbers begin to decrease, Murray noted that many try and return to daily life too quickly, which “creates this potential for [cases] going up, stabilizing, then coming down, [then] people becoming less vigilant, and then cases going up again."

“I think we will see more of that roller coaster phenomenon through the fall,” he added.

The CDC currently estimates that by August 22, the U.S. death toll will reach 175,000 to 190,000 — an increase of  4,500 to 10,600 deaths over previous estimates at the start of the month.

At least 39 states, as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, currently have some form of mask mandate in place, according to CNN.

On Thursday, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced that he would be extending the state’s mandate by an additional 30 days. “Today’s number strongly suggests and I believe is evidence of facial coverings working,” he said at a press conference, crediting facial coverings with slowing the “terrifying” spread of the virus in the state.

The CDC recently updated their guidelines on masks, sharing that they do not recommend that people wear masks with vents, which can “allow exhaled respiratory droplets to reach others and potentially spread the COVID-19 virus.”

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