HOUSTON — The state of Texas is now fully reopened, and the state mask mandate has lifted. But experts say staying masked up could save thousands of lives. Without masks, deaths in Texas could increase by 50 percent.
"You can already see the cases notching up," said Dr. Theo Vos with the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. "It's ill advised to take away some of these precautionary measures."
The latest COVID-19 model put together by Dr. Vos and researchers at the University of Washington gives us a glimpse of how bad it could get -- again.
Texas peaked earlier this year with around 300 daily deaths. In the last few weeks, deaths have been declining and experts say with the mask mandate in place things would continue to improve. If mask mandates remain, Texas could see fewer than 25 deaths per day by the summer.
Without mask mandates, Texas may shoot back up to more than 100 deaths per day by June.
"I would strongly urge people in Texas to continue wearing masks," Dr. Vos said.
Now let's look at case counts. Texas peaked at 42,000 per day in January. Flash forward to today and Texas is down to about 20,000 per day. If we stay the course with masks, the model suggests we'd be as low as 1,000 daily cases statewide by June.
Without masks, Texas would stall at 10,000 new cases per day.
"With a lifting like that, the question is how many people will no longer wear a mask because there's no mandate," Dr. Vos said.
Dr. Vos said the key will be for people to continue doing the right thing. With vaccinations still ramping up, universal mask usage can more quickly impact the pandemic than vaccines.
"If you're a lonely mask wearer, the effect is pretty limited," Dr. Vos said. "You have to rely on many people taking these precautions. You can't do this alone."
Of course, these are just projections. They could be far better or far worse. What is certain is wearing a mask for a little longer will get people to the other side of this pandemic much faster.