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UW model predicts over 2,400 daily COVID infections in Washington by October without masks

With Gov. Inslee’s statewide mandate on wearing masks in public going into effect Friday, local health officials and modelers are expressing support for the measure as a means to reduce COVID-19 transmission.

Can mask mandate help slow spread of virus?

“As we have learned about COVID-19 and keeping people safe, masks do seem to be beneficial,” Harborview Associate Medical Director Dr. Chloe Bryson-Cahn said Wednesday. “I don’t think we understood that at the beginning, that if you’re asymptomatic, you could potentially be spreading the infection to other people.”

That’s shown by data used by UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which released updated predictions for what Washington’s COVID-19 outbreak might look like with and without mask-wearing.

With “universal masks,” the IHME predicts the state will see roughly 215 daily infections by October 1. Without the use of masks, that number jumps to over 2,400 estimated daily infections.

IHME graph

The IHME’s predictions with and without masks in Washington

“Masks can help us save lives and rebuild the economy by delaying lockdowns,” the IHME’s Dr. Ali Mokdad said. “U.S. states should act quickly to embrace this underutilized tool, which is one of the best tools available when it comes to preventing COVID-19.”

The benefits of masks revolve around preventing the spread of COVID-19 in asymptomatic carriers, who often don’t even know that they have the virus. Oftentimes, it can take days before symptoms present, a period during which the virus is actively shedding and transmitting.

“In the couple of days leading up to developing symptoms, people can actually shed quite a bit of virus,” Dr. Bryson-Cahn described. “And so even if I’m feeling amazing, it is possible that I have virus dripping out of my nose and mouth that would put other people at risk. When we put on a mask to contain that virus, we call that source control, and it’s a really important feature of preventing infection diseases from spreading.”

Yakima County in ‘desperate situation’ as COVID-19 outbreak escalates

Gov. Inslee announced the mask mandate Tuesday, citing a troubling lack of mask-wearing in Yakima County, which has quickly developed into the new epicenter of Washington’s COVID-19 crisis.

Only a third of people were wearing face coverings a couple weeks ago in Yakima County, Inslee said, a number that’s now risen to about 60% of people.

Willful violation of the mask mandate will be a misdemeanor. Enforcement could be used, but Inslee does not believe it will be necessary.

There are a few exceptions to this mandate, including kids under 2 years of age and those with a medical condition that would make it difficult to wear a mask.

Masks or face coverings must be worn indoors, in public settings, and outdoors when you are unable to remain six feet away from others.

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