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A medical worker moving a body from the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center to a refrigerated truck on April 2 in Brooklyn, New York. Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington has issued a new report estimating that the US coronavirus death toll will reach 539,000 by April.

About 282,000 American deaths from the virus had been reported as of Monday.

The report predicts COVID-19 vaccines will prevent 9,000 deaths before April 1 and “speed the transition back to normal” later in the year. In the meantime, it said universal mask use would prevent far more deaths.

A US Food and Drug Administration advisor said high-risk Americans could get access to Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine as soon as this week.

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A new report predicts the total coronavirus death toll in the US will double by April.

The report is based on modeling from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. IHME is primarily funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In what the report described as the most likely of six plausible scenarios, the cumulative COVID-19 death toll would reach 539,000 by April 1, with daily deaths peaking at 3,000 a day in mid-January.

The report estimated that vaccines would prevent 9,000 deaths before April 1 under that scenario, with the drugs’ greatest effects to “speed the transition back to normal” coming only later in the year.

The report suggested that universal mask use would be more effective at preventing deaths in the meantime; it estimated that if at least 95% of the population wore masks, there would be 66,000 fewer deaths by April 1.

Other research has indicated masks are highly effective against the coronavirus. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report in November found that Kansas counties that adopted mask mandates over the summer saw COVID-19 incidence decrease by 6% on average, while counties without such mandates saw cases increase by 100%.

President-elect Joe Biden has asked Americans to wear a mask during the first 100 days of his presidency, beginning on January 20.

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Two vaccines are awaiting decisions on emergency-use authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration. One of them – developed by Pfizer and BioNTech – is set to be reviewed at a meeting on Thursday, and an FDA advisor recently said high-risk Americans could get access to that vaccine as soon as Friday should it receive authorization.

Read more: Moderna’s ambitions of pumping out up to 1 billion doses of a coronavirus vaccine rest on a former Polaroid factory that’s never produced an approved drug

The US added over 1 million COVID-19 cases in the first five days of December. Hospitalizations and deaths are increasing, and while the CDC recommended that Americans not travel or gather indoors on Thanksgiving to limit the disease’s spread, millions still passed through US airport checkpoints during the holiday period.

Increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations risk overwhelming hospitals. Much of California has already imposed a stay-at-home order because of decreasing hospital-bed availability.

The IHME report estimated that 15% of the US population had been infected by the coronavirus as of November 30.

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