If 95 Percent of Americans Wear Masks, 100,000 Lives Can Be Saved by January 1: IHME Report

As winter weather merges with many people moving life indoors, global health experts said wearing masks could save 100,000 lives from COVID-19 by January 1.

Several infectious disease expert—including Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Christopher Murray, the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation—warned of a fall and winter season "surge" of coronavirus cases and deaths. Researchers at the University of Washington's IHME said outdoor mask usage is just above 50 percent, and between 95,000-100,000 lives could be protected from COVID-19 related deaths if 95 percent of Americans wear masks in the coming cold weather months.

Despite the impending release of several potential vaccines, public health experts say a winter lockdown and coming burst of cases may occur if people become "less careful."

The IHME director on Friday said COVID-19 forecast models show a "huge surge that we really expect to take off in October and accelerate in November and December."

Winter projection models released Thursday by the IHME, a research institute founded through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, predict 371,509 deaths by January 1, 2021—a slight decrease from last week's data. But that death toll projection still foresees 168,000 more deaths on top of the nearly 204,000 deaths already recorded across the United States since the start of the pandemic.

"First, as case counts have come down in some states, we tend to see that people become less careful, they tend to have more contact," Murray told CNN Friday. "But then the most important effect is the seasonality of the virus, that people go indoors, transmission happens more."

"That seasonality is going to be driving the big winter surge that we expect to see," Murray added.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicted up to 226,000 coronavirus deaths in the U.S. by October 17, three weeks from Saturday.

Officials in major urban areas across the world, including New York City, are preparing to re-enter another potential "lockdown" phase of businesses as the weather gets colder and patrons move inside establishments—although New York has a test positivity rate at less than one percent, according to state health officials. Mayor Bill De Blasio this past week allowed outdoor dining to become a permanent fixture among the city's restaurants and bars.

"This may be the most precarious moment that we're facing since we have emerged from lockdown," cautioned Department of Health & Mental Hygiene chief, Dr. Dave Chokshi, warning of clusters in cities soon transitioning into widespread infection problems once again. "We will move as swiftly as the situation warrants ... If this growth continues, it will turn into widespread transmission potentially citywide."

Worldwide, there are 32,595,000 recorded coronavirus cases, including just under 990,000 deaths. In the U.S., there are more than 7 million cases tied to approximately 204,000 coronavirus fatalities.

Newsweek reached out to both the CDC and IHME for additional details Saturday morning.

Fauci reminded CNN viewers Friday that the U.S. is still in the "first wave," and Americans should be prepared for the fall and winter "challenge" of continuing to social distance and wear masks in public.

masks restaurant covid-19 winter surge
A restaurant server wears a mask at 46th Street which has been temporarily converted to "Restaurant Row" for outdoor dining during the fourth phase of the coronavirus pandemic reopening on September 06, 2020 in New York, New York. The fourth phase allows outdoor arts and entertainment, sporting events without fans and media production. ROY ROCHLIN / Contributor/Getty Images
If 95 Percent of Americans Wear Masks, 100,000 Lives Can Be Saved by January 1: IHME Report | Health