Monday, 30 Nov 2020

Nearly 130K lives could be saved if everyone wears masks: study

Universal mask-wearing could save almost 130,000 American lives from the COVID-19 pandemic through February 2021, according to scientists.

A study, published Friday in the journal Nature Medicine, models a series of scenarios that could happen during the fall and winter in the US if states double down on safety measures like social distancing and face-covering mandates — or if they continue to roll them back.

The scientists found that universal mask use, defined as 95 percent of people committing to wearing masks in public, could spare between 85,284 to 170,867 lives from coronavirus-related deaths between Sept. 22 and the end of February — pointing to 129,574 as the likely number of lives saved.

Even if just 85 percent of people commit to wearing masks in public, an additional 95,814 lives could be saved.

The research, conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s COVID-19 forecasting team, is based on case and mortality data from Feb. 1 through Sept 21, testing rates, mask use, cell phone data and a series of models.

Infectious disease experts hope the findings can be a “wake-up call.”

“I’d like for people to see this study as a call to action, sort of a wake-up call, especially for those individuals who are unconvinced by the devastation that this pandemic is causing,” Shweta Bansal, an infectious disease modeler from Georgetown University who wasn’t involved with the research, told the New York Times.

However, she also warned that the estimates are based on many assumptions and should not be considered a definitive projection.

“It’s not a prediction or forecast, because we can will this number out of existence,” Bansal said.

She said the article’s conclusions could be very different if there are widespread behavior changes among Americans.

Only around 60 percent of Americans report always wearing a mask when they’re in public, according to the IHME, despite the practice being one of the strongest tools in warding off restrictive lockdowns, Christopher Murray, the article’s lead author, told The Times.

“Increasing mask use is one of the best strategies that we have right now to delay the imposition of social distancing mandates and all the economic effects of that, and save lives,” Murray said.

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