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The coronavirus pandemic is set to cause half a million deaths in the US by February with Covid-19 on course to ravage states across America throughout the coming winter, a new study has forecast.
More than 511,000 lives could be lost by 28 February next year, modeling led by scientists from the University of Washington found. This means that with cases surging in many states, particularly the upper midwest, what appears to be a third major peak of coronavirus infections in the US could lead to nearly 300,000 people dying in just the next four months.
The situation will be even more disastrous if states continue to ease off on measures designed to restrict the spread of the virus, such as the shuttering of certain businesses and social distancing edicts. If states wind down such protections, the death toll could top 1 million people in America by 28 February, the study found.
Even if states implement restrictions when Covid deaths hit eight people per million, as has been standard, the projected death toll of 511,000 will still be more than all the lives lost by the US in the second world war. America will face a “continued public health challenge” beyond February, the study, published in Nature Medicine, warns.
A further 130,000 lives could be saved by February, the researchers found, if 95% of the American population adopted consistent mask-wearing. The universal use of masks is a “relatively affordable and low-impact intervention” which “has the potential to serve as a priority life-saving strategy in all US states”, the study states.
Donald Trump has routinely mocked people for wearing masks despite the advice of his own government’s experts and his own brush with the virus.
“I don’t wear masks like him,” the US president said about Joe Biden, his Democratic election rival, during their first televised debate. “Every time you see him, he’s got a mask.” An outbreak of Covid infections within the White House has been blamed, in part, on a culture where staffers were discouraged from wearing masks.
The president has also repeatedly called for the reopening of schools and businesses even as cases have roared beyond 8 million in the US. Some states, such as Florida, have followed this position while others that have maintained restrictions have been attacked by Trump. “They’ve gotta open up that state, they’ve got to open up that state,” Trump said of Illinois this week. JB Pritzker, Illinois’s Democratic governor, said that Trump was “modeling bad behavior” and that the virus was “very dangerous”.
With the pandemic showing little sign of being curbed, public health specialists warn that people in the US face a prolonged period of further suffering. The University of Washington-led study “confirms what many of us are worried about, which is an unrelenting outbreak in the United States” said Irwin Redlener, professor of health policy at the Columbia University Medical Center, who was not involved in the research.
“If we don’t do anything much more we will have a very serious increase in fatalities,” said Redlener. “Simple policies such as mandated masks can help stop the spread and if you had a strong consistent message from the White House it would be very difficult for governors to not implement that. But the lack of federal leadership has cost lives in America. It’s a very sad state of affairs.”
Around half of people in the US say they always wear a mask, according to polling, with this figure growing to around eight in 10 Americans when it comes to wearing masks in stores and other businesses. But these levels are still below the universal mask-wearing required for the major reduction in deaths, with masks now firmly entrenched as a sign of political identity among some people.
“People have already formulated opinions on this,” Redlener said. “It’s become an ideological position, a symbol of resistance to science that has unfortunately become locked in. If Biden is elected we will have a very strong national mask policy but by then we may well see an active rebellion to that.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Half a million Americans could die of Covid by end of February, study forecasts | Coronavirus