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the coronavirus crisis

Almost 130,000 COVID-19 deaths could be prevented if 95 percent of Americans wore masks, study estimates

The U.S. coronavirus death toll could potentially surpass half a million by the end of February, but nearly 130,000 lives could be saved through universal mask use, a new study suggests.

The study published on Friday in Nature Medicine estimated that by Feb. 28, 2021, the COVID-19 death toll in the United States could reach 511,373, assuming states reinstate social distancing mandates upon reaching a threshold of eight deaths per million, The New York Times and USA Today report. If states continue to ease their social distancing mandates, the death toll could pass one million, the researchers said.

However, the study also projects that if 95 percent of Americans wore masks in public, this "could be sufficient to ameliorate the worst effects of epidemic resurgences in many states," and a total of 129,574 deaths could be prevented. If just 85 percent of Americans wore masks in public, 95,814 deaths could be prevented, the researchers also projected. The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Washington's School of Medicine.

Georgetown University infectious disease modeler Shweta Bansal, who wasn't involved with the study, noted to the Times that this is "not a prediction or forecast, because we can will this number out of existence." Bansal added, "I'd like for people to see this study as a call to action, sort of a wake-up call, especially for those individuals who are unconvinced by the devastation that this pandemic is causing."