Mask-wearing could save 130,000 American lives

Why wouldn't you wear a mask? You could be saving someone's life

Diana Duong 3 minute read October 27, 2020
Pensive young man in eyewear wears protective surgical mask during coronavirus outbreak, poses in public transportation, thinks how to overcome disease. Virus protection, quarantine concept.

Now is not the time to neglect public health precaution: A new study finds universal mask-wearing could save 130,000 American lives. Getty Images

There could be half a million COVID-19 deaths in the United States by the end of February next year, but if everyone wore a mask, 129,574 of those lives could be saved.

In a new study published in the Nature Medicine, researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation looked at American COVID-19 cases and data on death between February 1, 2020 and September 21, 2020.

They looked at the framework of susceptibility, exposure, infections and recovered cases to model future potential trajectories of the disease and infections between September 22, 2020 until the end of February 2021.

Based on different scenarios — the levels of people physical distancing and wearing masks — the researchers projected that between 469,578 to 578,347 American lives could be lost to COVID-19 by the end of February 2021.

However, if 95 per cent of the population wore masks in public, 129,574 lives would be saved between September 22 and the end of February 2021. In a scenario where 85 per cent of the population in each state always wore a mask in public, 95,814 lives could be saved.

Canadians support masks

In a survey conducted last month on 1,538 Canadians by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies, 83 per cent of Canadians believed masks should be made mandatory in all indoor public spaces, such as public transit, restaurants, grocery stores, shops. In addition, 87 per cent believed their obligation to wear a mask was their civic duty as it protects others from the virus.

In contrast, 78 per cent of surveyed Americans believed wearing a mask was their civic duty and only 68 per cent of Americans believed masks should be made mandatory.

“The key point here is that there’s a huge winter surge coming,” says Dr. Christopher Murray, lead author on the paper and the director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, in a press briefing.

Murray says the U.S. is heading in a “very substantial fall/winter surge” and that there is no evidence to “the idea that the pandemic is going away.”

Last week, during the election debate U.S. president Donald Trump falsely said the pandemic is “going away.” Even though so far, COVID-19 has killed more than 225,000 Americans, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Murray was reported saying that the wave is not currently fully preventable, but “expanding mask use is one of the easy wins for the United States.”

Researchers of this study projected one-third of the deaths between September 22, 2020 and February 2021 would occur in just three states: California, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Current mask use guidelines vary widely across the United States. Some states, like California, Texas, and New York, have set rules on when to wear a mask while others, like Iowa, Florida, and Missouri, have not.

Whether it’s 85 per cent of the population wearing masks, 95 per cent, or a “plausible reference scenario” where things continue at its current trajectory until deaths become too high and social interaction and the economy is shut down once again — study authors say under all three of these scenarios, it’s clear the U.S. is “likely to face a continued public health challenge” from COVID-19 until February 2021, and beyond.

“We expect the surge to steadily grow across different states and at the national level, and to continue to increase as we head towards high levels of daily deaths in late December and in January,” says Murray. | @dianaduo

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