This article originally appeared on VICE US.
The projected U.S. death toll from the coronavirus pandemic could climb as high as 240,000 by November 1 if lockdown restrictions continue to be eased, mandatory mask-wearing is not introduced, and spikes in states like Texas, California, and Florida continue.
The prediction comes from a University of Washington model tracked by many public health experts, and its projections are changing rapidly, and in the wrong direction. Just last week the researchers predicted 208,000 people would die in the U.S. from COVID-19 by November 1.
But on Tuesday night, the model was updated with the predicted death toll for the same period rocketing to 224,000. However, if mandatory mask-wearing in public were introduced across the country, it could save almost 60,000 lives compared to the worst-case scenario.
The sharp increase in the projected death toll comes after several weeks of major spikes in infection rates across the U.S., particularly southern and western states.
“That increase in our forecasts is being driven by the big upsurge in the ones we know about in Florida, Texas, Arizona, California,” Dr. Chris Murray, the chair of the university’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation told CNN on Tuesday night.
The coronavirus has so far killed over 136,000 people in the U.S and infected almost 3.5 million. Infection rates are currently rising in at least 37 states.
“There's a longer list of states where deaths are going up, as well as hospitalizations,” Murray said. “So, that includes Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah. So those are our lists that are driving up forecasts, as we look ahead."
As the infection rates spiral out of control across the country, and many states have begun to reimpose lockdown restrictions to try and curb the outbreaks, the Trump administration has continued to downplay the severity of the crisis with Trump pushing for states to reopen schools and businesses, while officials attempting to undermine the warnings from top health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci.
And now, the work conducted by Murray and other public health researchers could be under threat.
On Tuesday, it was revealed that the White House has ordered hospitals to bypass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and send all COVID-19 patient information to a central database in Washington.
The move was announced quietly in a document on the Department of Health and Human Services website and raises the prospect that data on infection and death rates will no longer be released to the public — something authoritarian regimes around the globe, including Iran and Egypt, have been accused of doing.
The new database, which will contain data on the number of patients being treated, as well as the number of beds and ventilators available, will not be accessible to the public, unlike the data collected by the CDC.
The White House says the new centralized database will streamline the process of collecting data, helping to remove the week-long lag in the collection of hospital data the CDC is currently experiencing.
But critics warn that the move will lead to a lack of transparency for scientists, journalists, and the general public.
“Historically, C.D.C. has been the place where public health data has been sent, and this raises questions about not just access for researchers but access for reporters, access for the public to try to better understand what is happening with the outbreak," Jen Kates, the director of global health with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, told the New York Times.
“How will the data be protected?” she added. “Will there be transparency, will there be access, and what is the role of the C.D.C. in understanding the data?”
Copy: Josefina Median wears a mask as she cleans a classroom at Wylie High School Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Wylie, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)