The coronavirus death toll in the United States could more than double by the end of the year, reaching 410,000, according to a study released by health officials on Friday.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington released the new model, projecting that the daily deaths could more than triple to 3,000 per day by the end of the year if mask usage stays at current rates.
Increasing mask use to 95 percent would cut the number of projected fatalities by more than half, according to the evaluation.
The study shows that since early August mask use has declined in the Midwest, Illinois and Iowa, areas that are also seeing an increase in case numbers.
National testing rates continued to decline slowly from a peak in early August, according to IHME.
This estimate reinforces warnings by many health experts that cooler, drier weather and increased time spent indoors could boost viral transmission.
The best-case scenario is about 288,000 deaths and worst-case is over 620,000, the model forecasts.
The outcome depends on social behavior and public policy, according to the health officials. The best-case scenario would occur if people wore face coverings in public, maintained social distance from others and government mandates limited the size of indoor gatherings.
The institute’s forecasts were influential in the beginning of the pandemic, guiding policies developed by the White House’s coronavirus task force and state officials. But they have also been criticized by some experts that believe projecting further into the future can not be done accurately.
In recent weeks, the daily numbers of new infections and deaths have gradually decreased. But experts have warned that viral infections traditionally spike a few weeks into the school year, and they expect the same is possible with the coronavirus.
COVID-19 has already killed more than 186,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by John Hopkins University.