Half a million people will likely die of coronavirus in the United States by April, according to a disturbing new forecast from a University of Washington model.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) believes that 538,893 people will lose their lives by 1 April – an additional 270,000 deaths from 30 November.
If mask mandates are relaxed, that total will rise to 770,000 by 1 April.
In an update on Friday, they announced that calculations show the peak of deaths will be in mid January, with 3,000 people dying a day.
Vaccinations will help, but will only save 9,000 lives by 1 April. The IHME concluded that a further 14,000 lives can be saved with more rapid vaccine scale-up targeting high-risk individuals.
Amid the devastating news, Donald Trump has been glaringly absent from discussion, preferring instead to tweet about how the election was "stolen" from him. His press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, insists that he has been working behind the scenes to speed vaccine development and logistics, saying: "the results speak for themselves".
He has planned 20 White House Christmas gatherings, where photos on social media from parties already held show crowds of maskless attendees in close proximity.
The IHME researchers found that state governors play the most important role in avoiding mass casualties.
If they order the wearing of masks, increasing their use to 95 per cent, 66,000 lives will be saved by 1 April.
At present, 71 per cent of people always wear a mask when leaving their home, but it varied by state.
In South Dakota and Wyoming the researchers found that mask use was lower than 50 per cent.
California has the most stringent restrictions at present, while Florida currently has none.
In Oklahoma, Alaska, South Dakota, Iowa, Idaho and Missouri only the minimal restrictions – closures of schools – are in place.
The IHME team use a hybrid modelling approach, incorporating elements of statistical and disease transmission models, to inform governments and policy advisors about the probable impact of their decisions. The team uses data from local and national governments, hospital networks and associations, the World Health Organization, and third-party aggregators, among other sources.
They found that Covid-19 was the number one cause of death in the US over the past week – overtaking heart disease, all cancers, strokes and kidney disease.
By the end of the year, the IHME expects Covid to be second only to heart disease as the major causes of death, with 348,311 predicted to die, versus 557,600 from heart disease.