Study: Universal Mask Wearing Could Save Nearly 130,000 US Lives from COVID-19

October 30th 2020
Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh
Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh

To prevent the spread of COVID-19 throughout the United States, universal mask wearing is critical.

Universal mask wearing is critical to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as the pandemic persists throughout the United States.

Evidence consistently demonstrates that mask wearing is one of the best measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in a community, and it is recommended by the CDC and other health experts as the best method available to do so.1 Person to person spread of COVID-19 has been known as the primary method of transmission.

However, the CDC recently updated their guidance based on evidence that COVID-19 can sometimes spread by airborne transmission from small droplets and particles that linger in the air for minutes to hours.1 Without federal mask mandates in place, inconsistencies exist across the country as many states have eased restrictions. According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been over 225,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States as of October 26, 2020.2

Study

An epidemiological study analyzed data across the country from the first recorded case through September 21, 2020 to determine different scenarios for the future trajectory of COVID-19.3

The study found different patterns of COVID-19 across the United States, including data that demonstrated that sixth of the deaths (16.6%) occurred in New York alone. Between February and September 2020, the highest levels of daily deaths occurred in New York (998), New Jersey (311), and Texas (220). On September 21, 2020, the highest level of daily deaths occurred in Florida at 101 deaths per day.3

The study projected that if states continue to ease restrictions, the total death rate in the United States could reach over 1 million by February 28, 2021.3 In addition, the study predicted that if states begin to shut down social interaction and the economy when daily deaths reach a threshold of 8 deaths per million, the projected death toll is predicted to decrease to 511,373 deaths by February 28, 2021. The implementation of universal mask use, or 95% mask use by the general public, is predicted to result in better outcomes as the pandemic surges in many states and is estimated to save an additional 129,574 lives from September 22, 2020 through the end of February 2021.3

This study provides important evidence about what the future could hold for the United States in terms of COVID-19 deaths and the critical nature of universal mask use to save lives. Limitations of the study include that it involved estimations of real-world scenarios and the rapidly evolving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, which may not be accounted for in the analysis.3

Public Health Implications

During a recent interview with CNN, Anthony Fauci, MD, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director, calls for universal mask adherence, keeping distance from others, and frequent handwashing measures, especially as the winter months approach.4

“They sound very simple. But we’re not uniformly doing that and that’s one of the reasons we’re seeing these surges,” said Fauci in the interview.4

Health care professionals can play a critical role in educating the public about the importance of correct mask use (covering mouth and nose) to prevent the spread of COVID-19.1 It is important to emphasize that masks work along with social distancing (staying at least 6 feet away from others) and frequent handwashing.1 As the holiday season approaches, it is vital to continue these measures to prevent serious COVID-19 illness and death.

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