In this file photo taken June 17, 2020, a customer, wearing a face mask because of the coronavirus outbreak, puts in an order at a bakery in Yakima, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s (IHME) latest projections predict that without large-scale, statewide adherence to mask-wearing, Washington could risk a return to business closures and stay-at-home restrictions as early as October.
Washington state currently has a mask mandate in place, requiring residents to wear a facial covering when out in public and in common areas, while allowing businesses to refuse service to customers not in compliance. States with mandates in place with no penalties typically see an increase of 8% in total mask wearing; those with mandates that include penalties see an increase of 15%.
The IHME estimates that with 95% mask use statewide, it could potentially delay the need for reimposing stricter mandates by as much as six to eight weeks. That prediction also assumes that half of all school districts opt for online instruction beginning in the fall.
The larger concern, both in Washington and nationwide, is that as new cases begin to drop, so too does the percentage of people who wear masks and adhere to basic social distancing practices.
“We’re seeing a roller coaster in the United States,” IHME Director Dr. Chris Murray said. “It appears that people are wearing masks and socially distancing more frequently as infections increase, then after a while, as infections drop, people let their guard down and stop taking these measures to protect themselves and others – which, of course, leads to more infections. And the potentially deadly cycle starts over again.”
Without 95% mask usage, the IHME predicts that 22 states will have to reimpose some combination of stay-at-home restrictions sometime between August and November. Nationwide, consistent mask wearing could reduce the U.S. COVID-19 death total by nearly 70,000 by December.