The number of people in the U.S. killed by Covid-19 could nearly double in the next several months despite a nationwide vaccine rollout, health researchers warn.
The U.S. is forecast to see a cumulative 539,000 deaths by April 1, according to a Dec. 4 report published by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington's School of Medicine.
More than 279,000 people in the U.S. have died from the virus and more than 14.3 million have been infected, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The country is expected to approve and begin distributing one or more vaccines as early as December.
IHME researchers forecast that the expected vaccine rollout only reduces the death toll by 9,000 before April 1 and said a rapid vaccine rollout targeting high-risk individuals could save 14,000 more lives.
"Mass scale-up of vaccination in 2021 means we have a path back to normal life, but there are still a few rough months ahead," IHME Director Christopher Murray said in a statement. "We must be vigilant in protecting ourselves at least through April, when, as our projections indicate, vaccines will begin to have an impact."
Researchers also said that increasing mask-wearing to 95% can save 66,000 lives by April 1 and urged states to implement mandates to mitigate the spread and relieve pressure on the healthcare system.
"Especially in the Northern Hemisphere, it's crucial for governments to impose or re-impose mandates that limit gatherings and require masks," Murray said. "Where the winter surge is driving spikes in infections, there will be many people who can still become infected and possibly die before the vaccine is fully rolled out."
The U.S. is entering a brutal new phase of the pandemic as infections spread through the country and hospitals deal with a record number of patients since the start of the pandemic.
The country reported more than 227,800 Covid-19 cases on Friday, a record since the pandemic began, while 2,600 people died, according to Johns Hopkins data. The U.S. is reporting a weekly average of more than 2,000 deaths every day.