U.S. daily COVID-19 cases reach new peak; half million could die by Feb.
Updated 13:51, 24-Oct-2020

More than 84,000 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 across the United States on Friday, according to a Reuters tally, a record one-day increase in infections during the pandemic.

The spike to 84,218 cases, which breaks the record of 77,299 set on July 16, comes as University of Washington researchers forecast that the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 could reach a total of half million by February.

It is also estimated that around 130,000 of those lives could be saved if everybody were to wear masks.

File photo: Exam Corp Lab employee (R) wears a mask as she talks with a patient lined up for COVID-19 testing in Niles, Ill, October 21, 2020. /AP

File photo: Exam Corp Lab employee (R) wears a mask as she talks with a patient lined up for COVID-19 testing in Niles, Ill, October 21, 2020. /AP

The research shows that with few effective COVID-19 treatment options and no vaccines yet available, the United States faces "a continued COVID-19 public health challenge through the winter."

"We are heading into a very substantial fall/winter surge," said IHME Director Chris Murray, who co-led the research. 

He said the projections, as well as currently rising infection rates and deaths, showed there is no basis to "the idea that the pandemic is going away," adding: "We do not believe that is true."

President Donald Trump said in Thursday's election debate of the pandemic: "It's going away."

The Friday update was the first time the IHME has projected deaths beyond February 1. Its current forecast on its website is for 386,000 deaths as of February 1. 

Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 221,000 Americans so far, has become the top issue for him and Democratic candidate Joe Biden in the November 3 election. Polls have shown that Americans trust Biden more than Trump to handle the crisis. 

The IHME study forecast that large, populous states such as California, Texas and Florida will likely face particularly high levels of illness, deaths and demands on hospital resources. 

"We expect the surge to steadily grow across different states and at the national level, and to continue to increase as we head towards high levels of daily deaths in late December and in January," Murray said.

The modelling study, which mapped out various scenarios and their projected impact on the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic in the United States, found that universal mask-wearing could have a major impact on death rates, potentially saving 130,000 lives. 

Current mask use in the United States varies widely. While some states, like New York, set strict rules on when to wear masks, others have no requirements. The issue has become political, in which some supporters have taken their cues from Trump, who is often seen without a mask and has repeatedly questioned their usefulness. 

"Expanding mask use is one of the easy wins for the United States ... and can save many lives," Murray said. 

He added that, just as parts of Europe and some local U.S. areas of high transmission are doing now, many U.S. states would need to re-introduce social distancing measures to curb the winter surge.

(With input from Reuters)