The nation’s patchwork of differing COVID-19 mandates and the inconsistent use of masks to prevent virus spread could lead to the cumulative loss of more than half a million lives by the end of February, scientists say.

Researchers from the University of Washington’s School of Medicine predicted that current state strategies surrounding social distancing, phased reopenings and mask mandates could lead to 511,373 deaths by Feb. 28, 2021, according to a study published Friday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Medicine.

However, scientists also predicted nearly 130,000 lives could be saved from the end of September through the end of February if at least 95% of the population wore masks in public. If only 85% wore masks, still nearly 96,000 deaths could be prevented.

“We are heading into a very substantial fall-winter surge,” said Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. “We expect that surge to steadily grow throughout different states, and at the national level continue to increase as we head towards quite high levels of daily death in late December and January.”

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