While a new forecast released by health researchers estimates that a mask-wearing compliance rate of 95% in the U.S. could reduce a projected death toll over the next four months by 120,000 people, President Donald Trump at a campaign event Thursday night continued to undermine the widespread adoption of face coverings by ridiculing Joe Biden's frequent use of a mask.
During Thursday night's packed rally in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, which violated the state's mandate against outdoor gatherings of more than 250 people, Trump said:
Did you ever see a man that likes a mask as much as him? And then he makes a speech, and he always has that—not always, but a lot of times he has it hanging down, because, you know what, it gives him a feeling of security. If I were a psychiatrist—right?—no, I'd say—I'd say, 'This guy's got some big issues.'
In an interview with CNN, Biden said that "it's hard to respond to something so idiotic."
"I listen to scientists. This is not a game. Life and death," Democratic nominee Joe Biden says about President Trump mocking him for wearing a mask. "I don't get it. ... It's hard to respond to something so idiotic" https://t.co/x7fYywZIdY pic.twitter.com/tTD5fLPdhD— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) September 4, 2020
Trump's statement—part of a broader defense of his administration's coronavirus response—came one day before the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IMHE) at the University of Washington announced its latest projection, which warns that under the most likely scenario, just over 410,000 people in the U.S.—and 2.8 million globally—will have died from Covid-19 by Jan. 1. With the country's Covid fatalities nearing 190,000 at press time, such an estimate means more than 220,000 additional coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S. alone during the remainder of 2020.
The best-case scenario, which assumes a near-universal adoption of face masks, is just under 290,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S. by the end of the year—120,000 less than the current projection.
Under the worst-case scenario, which has the potential to occur if public health mandates are eased prematurely in favor of a so-called "herd immunity" approach, over 620,000 people in the U.S. will have succumbed to the disease by the start of 2021.
According to the IHME's forecasts, which are based on a model that hinges on human behavior and public policies, anywhere from 100,000 to 430,000 additional U.S. residents are likely to die from Covid-19 in the next four months.
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Whether the eventual outcome reflects the low estimate or the high one, say researchers, depends in part on the willingness of people to use face coverings regularly, along with other policy responses and behavioral modifications.
Several scientists support Bernie Sanders' Masks for All Act, which invokes the Defense Production Act to manufacture and distribute three high-quality, reusable masks to every person in the country via the U.S. Postal Service.
95% compliance with regular mask-wearing and strict adherence to social distancing could save up to 120,000 lives in the U.S. by the end of the year, and as many as 770,000 lives could be saved worldwide in the same time period, the IMHE estimates.
Christopher Murray, director of the IMHE, lamented to the Washington Post that there are "bleak times ahead in the Northern Hemisphere winter, and unfortunately we are not collectively doing everything we can to learn from the last five months."
In a statement, Murray blasted proponents of the so-called "herd immunity" strategy, which he said "ignores science and ethics," and if applied globally would produce "millions of avoidable deaths," and is "quite simply, reprehensible."
"The science is clear and the evidence irrefutable," Murray said. "Mask-wearing, social distancing, and limits to social gatherings are vital to helping prevent transmission of the virus."
According to infectious disease expert Jeffrey Shaman, "What happens the next few months really depends on what we do as a society in the next few weeks."
Ali Mokdad, a professor of population health, issued a reminder: "These are not numbers or statistics but family members, friends, and loved ones."