The United States is expected to see nearly 100,000 additional deaths from COVID-19 between now and December 1, according to the country’s most watched prediction model. But health experts say the death toll could be halved if nearly everyone wore a mask in public.
In other words, what the coronavirus holds in store this fall depends on human behavior.
“The behavior will really determine if, when, and how sustainable the current wave will subside,” said Lauren Ansel Myers, director of the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas. “We can’t stop Delta in its tracks, but we can change our behavior overnight.”
That means doubling the use of masks again, limiting social gatherings, staying home when sick, and vaccinating. “Those things are under our control,” Myers said.
Delta-powered fourth wave
The United States is in the grip of a fourth wave of infections this summer, buoyed by the highly contagious Delta species, which has led to soaring cases, hospitalizations and deaths, flooding medical centers, overworking nurses and erasing months of progress against the virus.
The death rate exceeds 1,100 deaths per day on average, turning back the clock to mid-March. One influential model, from the University of Washington, predicts that an additional 98,000 Americans will die by the beginning of December, for a total death toll of about 730,000.
Projections say deaths will rise to nearly 1,400 a day by mid-September, then slowly decline.
But the model also says that many of those deaths could be avoided if Americans changed their tactics.
We can save 50,000 people
“We can save 50,000 lives simply by wearing masks. That’s how important the behaviors are,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle who is involved in making predictions.
There are already signs that Americans are taking the threat more seriously.
Amid the warning about the delta variant in the past several weeks, the slump in demand for COVID-19 footage has reversed the tide. The number of vaccinations dispensed daily has risen by about 80 percent over the past month to an average of about 900,000.
In Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, “more people got their first vaccinations in the past month than in the previous two months combined,” White House Coordinator Jeff Zents said Tuesday.
Millions of students have been forced to wear masks
Also, millions of students are required to wear masks and a growing number of employers are asking their workers to get the vaccine after the US government gave full approval to Pfizer earlier this week. Cities like New York and New Orleans insist that people get vaccinated if they want to eat in a restaurant.
Half of American workers support vaccine requirements in their workplace, according to a new survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Early signs suggest that behavioral changes may already be flattening the curve in a few places where the virus has spread this summer.
Analysis by the Associated Press shows the rate of new cases is slowing in Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana and Arkansas, and some of the same states where first shots are increasing. In Florida, calls from hospitals and the uproar over masks in schools may have prompted some to take more precautions.
However, worrying trends persist in Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wyoming, where new infections continue to rise steadily.
Make choices to reduce risks
Miqdad said he was frustrated that Americans “are not doing what it takes to control this virus.”
He said, “I don’t understand.” “We have a fire and no one wants to deploy a firetruck.”
One possible explanation, Elizabeth Stewart of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said is that the good news of the spring – rising vaccinations and declining cases – gave people a glimpse into the way things once were. This made it difficult for them to resume the precautions they thought they had left behind.
“We don’t need to take cover completely, but we can make some choices that reduce the risk,” she said.
A need to stay alert
Dr. Gabe Sauza, 30, of Seattle, who was vaccinated during the winter but tested positive for COVID-19, said with other guests days after a wedding in Vermont on August 14, although most of the festivities were mostly outdoors and were Attendees must provide copies of their vaccination cards.
“Looking back, I wish I could have worn a mask,” she said.
Souza, a pediatric resident, will be absent from the hospital for two weeks and may struggle with guilt about burdening her colleagues. She credits the vaccine with keeping the infection under control, though she experienced several days of body aches, fever, night sweats, fatigue, cough, and chest pain.
“If we act, we can contain this virus,” Mikdad said. “If we do not act, this virus is waiting for us.” “He will find the weak among us.”