Researchers behind an influential model are projecting that the US death toll from coronavirus could reach nearly 300,000 by December 1 – but that can be changed if Americans consistently wear masks.
According to Johns Hopkins University, 159,990 people have died in the United States since the pandemic began.
“The US forecast totals 295,011 deaths by December,” the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation statement says.
The model doesn’t have to come true, said IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray: “The public’s behavior had a direct correlation to the transmission of the virus and, in turn, the numbers of deaths.
The statement said that if 95% of the people in the US wear face coverings, the number would decrease to 228,271 deaths, and more than 66,000 lives could be saved.
Murray told CNN his group looks at studies on the effects of mask use and the best estimate is they can cut spread by 40%.
“You get this really huge effect that accumulates over time,” he told Anderson Cooper, “because every individual that is wearing the mask is putting the brakes on transmission by 40%. That starts to add up.”
The model comes the same day the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released an ensemble forecast that projects 181,031 deaths by August 29.
“State-level ensemble forecasts predict that the number of reported new deaths per week may increase over the next four weeks in Hawaii and Puerto Rico and may decrease in Florida, Mississippi, New Mexico, the Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Texas, Vermont and the Virgin Islands.” the CDC says on its forecasting website.
The forecast relies on 24 individual forecasts from outside institutions and researchers.
Fauci: We can get case levels down by Election Day
The US has what it takes to get Covid-19 case levels down to more manageable levels by Election Day if it uses masks and other “fundamental tenets of infection control” – but it needs to get serious now, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN on Thursday.
“We can be way down in November … if we do things correctly , and if we start right now,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told “New Day.”
Fauci’s roadmap is the same one he’s been preaching, including using masks in public, social distancing and washing hands.
And he points to hopeful signs that this works. Arizona, which had a significant outbreak this summer, has “started to really clamp down and do things right,” he said.
Arizona went from averaging nearly 4,000 cases a day in early July to below 2,000 new cases a day now, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
“I really do believe, based on the data we see in other countries, and in the United States, in states and cities and counties that have done it correctly, that if we pay attention to the fundamental tenets of infection control and diminution of transmission, we can be way down in November,” Fauci said.
“Everybody on the team of American citizens needs to pull together. … It’s up to us,” he said.
Fauci: Test positivity upticks are ‘predictor of trouble’
With 4.8 million cases in the US alone, Fauci elaborated on a warning that a fellow member of the White House coronavirus task force sounded.
On Wednesday, task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx warned state and local officials in a phone call about a uptick in a test-positivity rate in several cities, including Chicago, Boston, Detroit and Washington, DC.
She said Baltimore, Atlanta, Kansas City, Portland, Omaha and California’s Central Valley “remain at a very high level.”
Test positivity rates can give early indication that a surge in daily case counts will come if nothing is done, Fauci said Thursday.
“So what Dr. Birx is saying, is now is the time to accelerate the fundamental preventative measures that we all talk about: Masks, social distancing, avoiding crowds, outdoors greater than indoors, washing hands, et cetera,” Fauci said.
“Those kinds of simple things can actually prevent that uptick from becoming a surge. So she was warning the states and the cities to be careful, because this is a predictor of trouble ahead.”
The latest mask guidance
At least 39 states as well as Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico have put some type of order in place that mandates the use of masks, and the development of vaccines is advancing with the hope that they could reach the public in 2021, Fauci has said. Still, the nation still is missing the cohesive response to the virus he would like to see.
The US went from averaging near 20,000 new cases a day in late May to above 60,000 new cases daily in July. The daily average is below 60,000 now.
Fauci indicated the US didn’t lower daily case rates enough in the spring – but he also thinks that the country can get them down “to a level of hundreds of cases, and maybe a thousand or two” with the preventive measures he’s prescribing.
Leaders take more measures
In Pennsylvania, state officials recommended pushing back high school fall sports until after January 1.
“The administration is concerned that holding school sports before January 2021 presents significant health risks to participants and the public, and strongly recommends against holding such events,” the guidance from the office of Gov. Tom Wolf said.
Local officials are allowed to make the decisions of whether to postpone, the governor’s office said.
In Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert announced he will allow local governments to implement their own mask mandates as long as they notify the state health department.
Herbert said his decision was based on his belief that local government is better equipped to determine the needs of their community.
“Why? I come from local government and I believe that’s where the rubber meets the road. One size fits all approaches are often ineffective,” Herbert said in a tweet.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order extending the existing Covid-19 state of emergency declaration for the city for an additional 30 days. The order was first signed in March and most recently extended on July 7.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Mississippi's rank among states for coronavirus cases. It is the fifth-highest per capita.
CNN’s Shelby Lin Erdman, Gisela Crespo, Elizabeth Stuart, Rebekah Riess, Amanda Watts, Rashard Rose, Jennifer Henderson, Sarah Moon and Holly Yan contributed to this report.