Scientists increase COVID-19 death projections, argue for mask-wearing mandate

Scientists are worsening the projected COVID-19-related deaths for the country, now saying an estimated 224,089 Americans could die by November 1st.

The virus is already connected to the deaths of more than 130,000 Americans, including about 1,400 in Washington state. 

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, whose forecasts are used for policy decisions across the country, updated its projections on Tuesday, increasing the number of possible deaths by more than 16,000 from the week prior.

However, IHME projections show Americans could save more than 40,000 lives if 95% of the population wore masks. 

“I want this projection to be a warning, but I want people to change their behavior and make sure they prevent the worst case scenario that we are projecting,” said Dr. Ali Mokdad, Chief Strategy Officer for Population Health at the University of Washington. 

He said mask wearing will do more than save lives. 

“We can save our economy because we will delay another lockdown,” he said. “Otherwise, we will be heading toward a number that will force us to go back into another lockdown.”

IHME projections assume that areas will continue with their current trend of easing restrictions until a threshold is hit that could force a lockdown. That threshold is eight COVID-19-related deaths per million people per day. In Washington, that would be about 61 deaths in one day, a peak the state has never reached. 

On Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced he is continuing a pause on phased reopening in the state until at least July 28, as cases continue to increase. 

The same day, CDC Director Robert Redfield said the country can gain control of the spread of COVID-19 in one to two months if everyone wore a mask. A CDC report also recommended state leaders consider mask mandates, something Washington has already done. 

“The debate about wearing a mask or not, and ‘It’s my right,’ we’ve seen this with seat belts, we’ve seen this with a lot of other things before,” Mokdad said of the mask mandate controversy. “We really need to be realistic, each one of us has to do their part. We have to wear a mask and then we should impose a national mandate for masks and make sure people adhere to it.”

Mokdad said universal mask wearing can prolong or even prevent an economic shutdown in some areas. But in others, he said it’s already too late, as some areas around the country are being forced to roll back reopening measures.