We could save 130,000 lives with a simple act

A message from Hal Paz, MD

Nov. 22, 2020

We’re approaching a holiday season that, in normal times, is full of celebration and warm gatherings with family and friends. Unfortunately, with the U.S. surpassing 12 million COVID-19 cases and with nearly 260,000 dead, more than 150,000 daily cases and nearly 85,000 current hospitalizations, celebrations will look much different this year.

Over the past several months, it seems that there has been bad news at just about every turn. But the world did receive some tentatively good news recently, as we learned that Pfizer and Moderna’s early results in vaccine trials demonstrated more than 95% effectiveness in preventing the disease. According to recent projections, though, it could be well into 2021 before a vaccine is widely available to the general public.

Despite all of this, there is a glimmer of hopea simple way that we can save thousands upon thousands of lives from COVID-19.

Wear a mask.

The science is clear. Studies performed during this pandemic show that masks can lower the risk of COVID-19 infection by 80%. According to statistical models, the effectiveness of universal mask use alone could prevent some 130,000 tragedies in the United States.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has provided a reliable computer model for anticipating case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19. Based on its detailed statistical modeling, achieving universal mask use (at least 95% mask use in public) could potentially save between 85,000 and 170,000 lives—on average, about 130,000—between the end of September and the end of February 2021.

Here in Ohio, we could save more than 2,000 lives between now and March 1 if we achieved 95% mask use in public.

We could prevent even more deaths if we also took other actions to mitigate the spread of this deadly virus.

I’m talking about limiting or even canceling your in-person gatherings for the 2020 holidays. If you have been counting on this opportunity to see your family and friends in person, canceling may seem extreme.

Unfortunately, the stakes now are extreme.

A recent national survey we conducted at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that about two in five Americans are likely to attend a Thanksgiving gathering with more than 10 people.

That means nearly 40% of our country plans to attend a large gathering for Thanksgiving. If just 1% of those people get infected with COVID-19, that will result in more than 1.2 million cases.

Choosing to postpone or cancel your gathering, or move it to a virtual platform, is the best way to demonstrate that you value the health and safety of those you hold dear. It’s the best way to show that you value the lives of your friends and family, and their friends and family, and their neighbors and every person each of you comes into contact with.

I know many of us are suffering from pandemic fatigue. We miss seeing our friends and family in person. However, each of us has the power to make a real difference through simple actions of prevention.

Please choose to save lives during the holidays this year. It’s the best gift of all.

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Hal Paz, MD, is executive vice president and chancellor for Health Affairs at The Ohio State University and CEO of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

More information about COVID-19 for patients and the community

More information about COVID-19 for patients and the community

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