Sept. 4 (UPI) -- Given current trends in new cases, scientists project that the COVID-19 death toll in the United States will be close to a half-million by the start of 2021.
Researchers at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said the overall national death count will reach 410,000 by the start of January.
According to updated data at Johns Hopkins University Friday, almost 187,000 COVID-19 patients have died in the United States to date. That means another 223,000 will die in the next four months, if the new study is correct.
"We expect the daily death rate in the United States, because of seasonality and declining vigilance of the public, to reach nearly 3,000 a day in December," the UW researchers said Thursday.
If the United States pursues a "herd immunity" strategy, which would include no further government intervention, the researchers said the national toll could be well over 600,000 by the start of the new year.
UW scientists cited a decreased use of face coverings as the main factor in their heightened estimates. They indicated that about 120,000 projected deaths could be avoided if mask use in the United States is similar to that in Singapore, where face coverings are mandatory everywhere in public.
The updated data Friday from Johns Hopkins' Center for Systems Science and Engineering showed there were 44,000 new cases in the United States on Thursday, an increase of a few thousand over Wednesday. There were about 1,100 new deaths, continuing a rise in both figures that began on Tuesday.
To date, there have been 6.15 million cases nationwide.
In Nevada, the state's COVID-19 Mitigation and Management Task Force ruled that restaurant counter tops in Las Vegas and Clark County will be allowed to reopen next week.
The commission said bars that don't serve food must remained closed, but counter tops in non-bar areas can open Wednesday for food service. The change was made at the request of Clark County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick.
"We are impacting tons of people because of counter tops that are not open," she told KVVU-TV. "If a sushi bar can't open their counter top, I want to understand, what is a science behind that?"
In Iowa, former health department spokeswoman Polly Carver-Kimm filed a wrongful termination lawsuit Thursday that says she was fired after Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered strict measures to control the flow of information about the state's COVID-19 response.
Carver-Kimm, who was fired in July, names Reynolds, Communications Director Pat Garrett and the state of Iowa in the suit.
The complaint says Carver-Kimm was "stripped of her duties" and fired after she made "repeated efforts to comply with Iowa's open records law by producing documents to local and national media" regarding Iowa's response.Sign up for our daily Top News Newsletter