June 24, 2020 / 7:58 PM / 12 days ago

Researchers lower forecast for U.S. COVID-19 deaths even as cases climb

(Reuters) - A newly revised model projects the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 will reach nearly 180,000 by October, down 22,000 from the last forecast despite several recent weeks of rising case numbers, researchers said on Wednesday.

But the latest forecast here from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) also predicts that some 33,000 lives would be saved if at least 95% of Americans consistently wear face coverings in public.

“People need to know that wearing masks can reduce transmission of the virus by as much as 50%, and those who refuse are putting their lives, their families, their friends and their communities at risk,” IHME’s director, Dr. Christopher Murray, said in a statement.

The new IHME worst-case forecast - 179,106 U.S. lives lost by Oct. 1 - was revised downward from the 201,000 deaths projected on June 15.

Several states have reported steadily rising case numbers over the past several weeks, “but deaths are not yet rising at the same rate, a trend which could change in the coming weeks,” the researchers said.

At least 121,500 Americans have died from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, while reported U.S. infections have surpassed 2.37 million, according to a tally by Reuters.

The revised IHME model, frequently cited by U.S. public health authorities, assumes a re-imposition of rigid social-distancing mandates in states where the daily mortality rates reach exceed eight deaths per 1 million people.

FILE PHOTO: An ambulance is seen in a main highway, as Miami-Dade County eases some of the lockdown measures put in place during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Miami, Florida, U.S., June 18, 2020. REUTERS/Marco Bello/File Photo

So far only Texas and Florida, among the states that have been the most aggressive in reopening their economies, have reached this level of resurgence, the researchers said.

Mask-wearing at current reported levels is included in the model, they said.

The projections are a range, with about 180,000 deaths the average between a best-case scenario of 159,497 lives lost and a worst-case scenario of 213,715 fatalities.

Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler and Lisa Shumaker

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