As the U.S. enters what some experts are calling the third peak of its coronavirus outbreak, a new study predicts a massive death toll by the end of February – more than half a million lives.
The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine on Friday, was performed by researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which produces a well-known coronavirus model.
It found that the current death toll of 224,000 could swell to more than 511,000 by Feb. 28, a little more than four months away. However, universal mask use would reduce that number by almost 130,000. Fewer than half of U.S. residents in September reported “always” wearing a mask in public, according to the study.
“Under all scenarios evaluated here, the United States is likely to face a continued public health challenge from the COVID-19 pandemic through 28 February 2021 and beyond, with populous states in particular potentially facing high levels of illness, deaths and ICU demands as a result of the disease,” the study said.
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The study comes after President Donald Trump at Thursday’s presidential debate repeated his claim that the U.S. is “rounding the corner” on its outbreak. Former Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, said the U.S. is in for a “dark winter.”
IHME said in an update this week that the current surge in the U.S. will likely intensify in November and December and reach its peak in January.
“Many states will face enormous pressure on hospital capacity and will likely have to re-impose some social distancing mandates,” it said. “The best strategy to delay re-imposition of mandates and the associated economic hardship is to expand mask use.”
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mortality forecast, which is an ensemble of models from dozens of groups, predicts the total death toll in the U.S. will reach 235,000 to 247,000 in the next roughly three weeks.