(CNN) – “Wear a mask.” It’s something we’ve heard throughout this pandemic, but a new study is putting a number to the lives that could be saved if most Americans would simply do this preventive measure.
“We have clear scientific evidence they work, and they are our best defense,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s one of the best ways to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and a new modeling study in the journal Nature Medicine estimates that if most Americans wore masks in public, more than 100,000 lives could be saved from COVID-19 between now and the end of February.
But researchers noted that as of late September, less than half of U.S. residents reported that they always wear a mask in public.
If that trend remains through February, and states continue removing social distancing mandates, the study suggests the COVID-19 death toll across the U.S. could reach about 1 million by the end of February.
In another scenario, researchers said if states shut down when their daily death rate exceeds eight deaths per 1 million people and mask-wearing doesn’t change, the forecasted death toll could reach more than 511,000 by the end of February.
But if most Americans wear masks – and states reimpose social distancing mandates if death rates sharply rise – the death toll projection would be at its lowest: 381,798 deaths by Feb. 28.
Researchers analyzed data on COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. from the beginning of February through the third week of September. They used those numbers, along with other factors, to help determine projections for the pandemic through February.