A computer model predicts that 300,000 Americans will have died of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, by December, CNN reported. However, that number could be cut by 70,000 if more Americans wore masks.
As of today, the pandemic has claimed the lives of 160,000 people in the U.S., but the model predicts that number will effectively double in just a few months.
However, one simple, inexpensive, and effective lifestyle choice could drastically reduce that projected death toll: wearing masks.
"70,000 of those people could be saved if we would all just wear a mask every day every time we leave our front doors," said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University.
"This virus is not just going to disappear or vanish. The virus is with us, and we're going to have to combat it, and the simple thing that we can all do is wear a mask. Please, everyone, wear your mask every day," he said.
It's a sentiment echoed by CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He noted that the model predicts a 40 percent reduction in cases if mask-wearing is adopted on a wider scale. However, he noted that even more lives could be saved than just what the simulation predicted.
"It's rare that you see something so simple, so inexpensive, so easy for everybody to participate in can have such an extraordinary impact in the US and also all over the world," said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).
However, Americans are living their lives under a patchwork of state and local laws, and various business' rules, when it comes to wearing masks. At least 39 states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, have covering requirements; similarly, multiple major businesses, such as Walmart, have begun requiring all customers in all of their American locations to wear masks.
But when it comes to the federal government, there is no nationwide mandate to wear coverings, and the Centers for Disease Control merely encourages their use, as well as specifies that certain masks with valves aren't effective in slowing the spread of the pathogen.
Schaffner noted that if there was consistent "national direction" on masks coming from the federal government, it might compel more widespread use of the face coverings and, by extension, slow the spread of the pandemic and reduce the projected number of deaths.
"These are lives we can all save if we all wear masks, and we need national direction to do that," he said.