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Model projects US could have nearly 300,000 coronavirus deaths by December

A key coronavirus model noted if all Americans start wearing masks when leaving their homes, more than 66,000 lives could be saved by December.

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — A key coronavirus model that's been cited by the White House now projects nearly 300,000 Americans may die from coronavirus by December.

The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said on Thursday it is now projecting 295,011 COVID-19 deaths by Dec. 1, but said more than 66,000 lives could be saved if people consistently wear a mask.

If 95% of the public were to wear masks when leaving their homes starting now, the latest projection for deaths drops by 49% to 228,271 deaths by Dec. 1.  

IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray said people's inconsistent use of coronavirus measures has become a serious problem. 

"We're seeing a rollercoaster in the United States," 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."

Murray noted that a recent drop in the number of new cases in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas appears to be driven by a combination of local mandates for masks, bar and restaurant closures, and the public practicing more responsible behavior. 

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In early May, the University of Washington team forecast the U.S. would have 134,000 coronavirus deaths by early August. As of Aug. 7, the U.S. has 160,000 deaths, according to data from John's Hopkins University.  

RELATED: Coronavirus model cited by White House now projects 134K US deaths by August

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.