More than 50 countries around the world have imposed federal mandates requiring people to wear masks or other facial coverings when leaving their homes, but in the United States, it has largely been left up to state and local governments. President Donald Trump refuses to don a covering in public, and the official White House stance is that the wearing of masks should be left up to an individual’s “personal choice.”
But not only can wearing masks save lives, they can also help save the economy, according to a new 11-page report from Goldman Sachs, the multinational investment bank and financial services company.
Goldman executive Jan Hatzius led a team of economists to crunch the numbers and found that a national face-mask mandate could allow for the country to ease up on renewed lockdowns—as COVID-19 cases have spiked in parts of the southern and western U.S. Such a mandate could increase mask-wearing by 15% of Americans, which would “otherwise subtract 5% from the gross domestic product.”
“We find that face masks are associated with significantly better coronavirus outcomes,” Hatzius wrote in a note to clients, according to CNBC. “ … If a face mask mandate meaningfully lowers coronavirus infections, it could be valuable not only from a public health perspective but also from an economic perspective because it could substitute for renewed lockdowns that would otherwise hit GDP.
In arriving at this conclusion, Hatzius and his team broke down mask-wearing behavior by state and analyzed how this behavior correlated to COVID-19 infection rates.
What they found were “large and highly significant” results. People in states with mask mandates who said they “always” or “frequently” wear masks rose by about 25% within 30 days of the government order. The group who said they “always” wear masks increased by 40% more than 30 days after the mandate, suggesting that the orders swayed those who previously said they “frequently” wear masks to “always” wearing them.
“We start by showing that a national mandate would likely increase face mask usage meaningfully, especially in states such as Florida and Texas where masks remain largely voluntary to date,” the team wrote in their report.
However, Kate Grabowski, a Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist who was not involved with the Goldman Sachs study, cautioned that the specific effects of mask mandates are just one part of a bigger picture when it comes to policies that will be imperative in controlling the pandemic. Grabowski, though, told the Washington Post that research makes it clear that masks are “an important component” to fighting COVID-19.
“We need combination prevention,” she told the Post. “We need to take everything we have and throw the kitchen sink at it.”