Face Masks Have Potential to Prevent 33,000 US Deaths by October If 95 Percent of Americans Wear Them

If you needed another reason to wear a mask in public amid a spike in COVID-19 cases in the U.S., researchers at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimated that if 95 percent of Americans wore face masks in public, it could prevent 33,000 deaths by Oct. 1.

Researchers at the University of Iowa found that an estimate 230,000 to 450,000 COVID-19 cases were prevented in the states that enacted requirements for mask between April 8 and May 15. With the IMHE predicting a total of 179,106 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. by October, the number of expected deaths drops down to 146,047 if 95 percent of Americans wear masks in public, researchers said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says everyone "should wear a cloth face cover when they have to go out in public, for example, wear one to the grocery store or to pick up other necessities." They add that masks are "to protect other people in case the wearer is unknowingly infected but does not have symptoms."

"People need to know that wearing masks can reduce transmission of the virus by as much as 50 percent, and those who refuse are putting their lives, their families, their friends, and their communities at risk," Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, told CNN.

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Health officials initially didn't recommend people who were not showing symptoms of coronavirus amid a widespread shortage of PPE for medical professionals. In early April, both the CDC and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams reversed that recommendation after doctors learned how easy the virus spread even from asymptomatic people. The World Health Organization jumped on board in June, advising countries to urge the public to wear face masks where physical distancing is difficult.

The reversal on masking recommendations came as doctors learned more about COVID-19, which has only been seen in humans for a few months. They now know the respiratory virus is easy to spread simply by talking or breathing and is highly contagious, twice as much as the flu. Without mitigation efforts, each person with the coronavirus infects, on average, another two to three other people, health officials stated. With a 14-day incubation period, it's easy for those as asymptomatic carriers or pre-symptomatic carriers to infect others before they know they are infected. Carriers are believed to be the most contagious in the 48 hours ahead of showing symptoms, making transmission tracking even more difficult.