Covid-19 model projects 33,000 fewer deaths by October if we all wore masks, assumes many Americans are too dumb to do that

Covid-19 model projects 33,000 fewer deaths by October if we all wore masks, assumes many Americans are too dumb to do that
Donald Trump, Joe Biden.

Epidemiologists have created several models that project the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. The most prominent is from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. It's been cited by the White House Coronavirus Taskforce and pretty much every major media outlet in the country.


IHME's projections are regularly adjusted as real-world data comes in. Since the beginning of April, it's projected that we would suffer as few as 70,000 deaths by early August, a figure we blew through in early May, and as many as 200,000-plus deaths by the beginning of October.

As of this writing, IHME projects that 179,000 Americans will die from Covid-19 by October 1. (This refers to the official numbers, which undercount the true death toll.)

But that's the topline figure, and it projects that 33,000 fewer Americans would die over the next 14 weeks with "universal masking." According to the model, if we all wore masks when we're out in public we could save over ten times as many lives as were lost during the 9/11 attacks. (The researchers plug survey data of self-reported mask usage into the model, so the projection of 179,000 deaths assumes current levels of mask usage through September.)

All models are imperfect. But a spate of recent studies, including a review of 172 studies conducted by the World Health Organization, have found that wearing a mask is an easy, cheap and highly effective way of stopping the transmission of Covid-19. And while there may not be a direct causal relationship, states that require masks have seen their cases decline over the past two weeks while those that merely recommend masks have seen their numbers climb.

Given how little effort it would be to save the lives of as many Americans as were killed in three years of combat in the Korean War over the course of next three months, we might achieve universal masking if we had credible public officials making that case--and a conservative media that were grounded in reality. But led by Donald Trump, Republicans in Congress, in state capitals and on Fox News have made masks the dumbest front of our culture wars, convincing a lot of Americans who wouldn't think about entering a place of business without a shirt or shoes that requiring a mask infringes on their liberty in a way that's worth fighting over. Employees of stores and restaurants have been shot and killed for asking customers to wear masks.

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