The US is projected to see nearly 100,000 more COVID-19 deaths between now and December 1, according to the nation’s most closely watched forecasting model. But health experts say that toll could be cut in half if nearly everyone wore a mask in public spaces.
In other words, what the coronavirus has in store this fall depends on human behavior.
“Behavior is really going to determine if, when, and how sustainably the current wave subsides,” says Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium. “We cannot stop Delta in its tracks, but we can change our behavior overnight.”
That means doubling down again on masks, limiting social gatherings, staying home when sick, and getting vaccinated. “Those things are within our control,” Meyers says.
The US is in the grip of a fourth wave of infection this summer, powered by the highly contagious Delta variant, which has sent cases, hospitalizations, and deaths soaring again, swamped medical centers, burned out nurses and erased months of progress against the virus.
Deaths are running at over 1,100 a day on average, turning the clock back to mid-March. One influential model, from the University of Washington, projects an additional 98,000 Americans will die by the start of December, for an overall death toll of nearly 730,000.
The projection says deaths will rise to nearly 1,400 a day by mid-September, and then decline slowly.
But the model also says many of those deaths can be averted if Americans change their ways.
“We can save 50,000 lives simply by wearing masks. That’s how important behaviors are,” says Ali Mokdad, a professor of Health Metrics Sciences at the University of Washington, in Seattle, who is involved in the making of the projections.