COVID-19 Report: 600,000 Americans Could Die Under Eased Restrictions

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Getty Medical personnel in New York load up one of the many mobile morgues set up early in the pandemic.

When Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases and a member of President Trump’s coronavirus task force, estimated that America’s coronavirus-related death toll could reach 200,000, many were hoping he was wrong.

But with the number of cases surging upwards of 185,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and new models that project more than 600,000 Americans could die from the disease — Fauci’s grim prediction is looking less like an overestimate and more like a best-case scenario.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation produced three models to assess the projected U.S. death toll depending on whether mask mandates are strictly adhered to, the county continues as it has or restrictions are eased.

The Best-Case-Scenario Projection Estimates the Death Toll Could Reach Nearly 300,000

According to a scenario in which masks are worn universally, the institute predicted that 288,380 Americans would die from the coronavirus by January 1, 2021.

This model, like the other two, shows a particular uptick between the busy holiday seasons before Thanksgiving and leading up to the New Year. However, it is generally steady and reflects what Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx and other health officials have been saying for months: masks reduce the spread of the virus and therefore, could help keep the death toll down.

Health Affairs published an article noting that, “A universal masking mandate likely serves as a strong signal or endorsement to a community to take masking seriously, and thereby helps shift community norms” and also decrying other states’ refusals to issue such mandates.

Goldman Sachs reported that masking would help prevent another lockdown and as a result, could save the country’s Gross National Product $1 trillion.

An August 10 report from the Jama Network found that mask-wearing policies have helped states reduce their case numbers:

An evaluation of state policies showed greater declines in daily COVID-19 cases after issuing mask mandates compared with states that did not have mandates.5 Face coverings offer source control to prevent exposing others and may offer protection to users. The ethical justification for face coverings is their utility in preventing transmission of serious disease to the community.

CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield agreed, stating “We are not defenseless against COVID-19. Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus…”

Even President Trump told supporters during a Pennsylvania rally, “Distance on the weekend and all of that stuff. Wear your mask when you’re close together in particular and wash your hands, all of those things,” the Associated Press reported.

Projections Based on the U.S.’s Current Trajectory Suggest Over 200,000 More May Die by the End of the Year

According to a scenario in which social distancing and mask-wearing continues as it has for the past few months, the institute predicted that 410,450 Americans could die from the coronavirus by January 1, 2021.

This is different from the projection reached by the institute nearly a month ago, which estimated that the death toll would likely reach 300,000, according to a report from NPR. In that article, NPR noted a number of factors, such as winter temperatures forcing more people indoors, would likely lead to an uptick.

Other factors include children going back to school, college students potentially returning to school and the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, which have not traditionally been very socially distant affairs.

The Worst-Case Scenario Could Mean More Than 600,000 Coronavirus-Related Deaths

According to a scenario in which restrictions are lifted, the institute predicted that 620,000 Americans would lose their lives to the current coronavirus by the new year.

A University of Massachusetts Amherst biostatistician, Nicholas Reich, said that the models are mere “what-if projections,” given that they can’t reliably predict the future; however, he told NPR that their value lies in helping determine solutions for the least deaths.

One of those solutions does not appear to be easing restrictions. Based on what has occurred in the past, easing those restrictions has led to an increase in cases, CNBC reported. Very soon after easing their restrictions in May, the states of Alabama, South Dakota and Texas saw a rise in coronavirus cases.

While testifying at a hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said easing restrictions too soon could prompt more outbreaks: “What I’ve expressed then and again is my concern that if some areas, cities, states, what have you, jump over those various checkpoints and prematurely open up without having the capability of being able to respond effectively and efficiently, my concern is that we will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks,” he said.

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