The Fate Of The US Economy Lies In Whether Or Not Americans Will Wear Face Masks

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According to Goldman Sachs, implementing and enforcing a federal face mask policy would not only slow down the spread of COVID-19, but also spare the US economy from a 5% loss in GDP. However, the unwillingness of many of the country’s citizens to wear masks is becoming a huge impediment to economic rebound, which was already in a precarious state.

The Effects Of Wearing Face Masks

Goldman Sachs chief economist Jan Hatzius said that his team investigated the link between the wearing of face masks and the health and economic outcomes of COVID-19 and found that significant and substantial statistical results have been associated with facial protection measures.

In a note to clients, Hatzius wrote: “We find that face masks are associated with significantly better coronavirus outcomes. Our baseline estimate is that a national mandate could raise the percentage of people who wear masks by 15 [percentage points] and cut the daily growth rate of confirmed cases by 1.0 [percentage point] to 0.6%.”

The economist added: “These calculations imply that a face mask mandate could potentially substitute for lockdowns that would otherwise subtract nearly 5% from GDP.”

The first focus was on how much the wearing of face masks will slow the spread of the novel coronavirus by observing the various population behaviors in each state. For example, Hatzius discovered that 40% of the respondents from Arizona say they always wear masks while Massachusetts had a much higher percentage, with 80% of respondents wearing them. 

Next, Goldman investigated the effects of the mandates declared by 20 US states, with the addition of British Columbia, between the second week of April and the third week of June. Afterwards, he compared YouGov COVID-19 response data to analyze the usage of masks.

The results of this study were “large and highly significant,” revealing that the mandates increased the number of people “always” or “frequently” wearing masks by 25 percentage points about a month after the government order.

Meanwhile, there was a 40 percentage point spike within the group of people who said they “always” wear masks. That result suggests that the government mandate caused some members of the group who “frequently” wear masks to “always” wear them.

Hatzius made it clear that wearing face masks has been shown to have a significant impact on the spread of COVID-19. Even when taking other factors like fewer outside trips and avoiding large gatherings into account, these findings maintain their strength.

Overall, the message from Goldman Sachs is that a national mandate for wearing face masks could increase the percentage of mask-wearing among Americans by 15 percentage points while shaving off 0.6 to 1 percentage point of the daily growth rate of confirmed cases.

In order to translate those results into GDP terms, the investment bank asked the required severity of government lockdowns needed to slash the rate of infection by 1 percentage point. Hatzius answered by comparing the severity of previous lockdowns in the US to the reaction of the American economy to the forced business closures.

According to the Goldman Sachs estimates, 17% of the drop in the US GDP between January and April was a direct result of the official government restrictions and social distancing. Larger economic effects were also observed in other countries with more aggressive restrictions.

Using the results from the study and the goal of slashing the daily infection rate by 1 percentage point, Goldman Sachs saw that 5% of the country’s GDP can be recovered if a national mandate for wearing face masks is implemented and enforced diligently.

Hatzius wrote: “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.”

Masks And Politics

Despite the proven statistics, millions of American citizens, especially Republican supporters and President Trump himself, have maintained an aversion to wearing face masks. By contrast, Joe Biden, Trump’s Democrat opponent, is always seen wearing a mask in public. According to a Gallup poll conducted in late June, only 2% of Democrats refused to wear a mask when outdoors, in comparison to nearly ⅓ of Republicans and 15% of Independents.

Mixed messages being sent by medical experts on how and when to wear face masks have been adding fuel to the fires of confusion. Generally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends masks; though it also said in early June that there is “no direct evidence” on the effectiveness of wearing face masks among healthy individuals. Other officials claim that wearing a mask doesn’t necessarily protect the person wearing it, though it can stop sick individuals from spreading the virus to others.

Recently, there has been a shift in politics towards the wearing of face masks as policy makers try to prevent any more shutdowns. Republican Governor Doug Ducey from Arizona was hesitant about the wearing of face masks at first, but the ballooning number of cases in his state caused him to spur everyone into wearing a mask.

Likewise, in Texas, another COVID-19 hotspot, Republican Governor Greg Abbott issued a mandate on the wearing of face masks on July 2nd, despite having initially opposed it. The reason for this reversal was to prevent “having our economy shut down again.” Governor Abbott shared this on local television.  

According to Eric Toner, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, the health and economic consequences of the novel coronavirus will worsen if measures to limit its spread, like wearing masks and social distancing, are not taken. “And we will have no choice but eventually to lock things down again, which would be devastating to the economy,” he added.

Enforcement In Question

Although most major corporations are now supporting the federal mask mandate, the matter of how it will be enforced remains. In places where masks are already mandated, business heads such as Tina Yake, owner of The Wooden Spoon restaurant in Overland Park, Kansas, have already taken up the initiative to carry it out themselves.

Recently, Democrat Governor Laura Kelly ordered the wearing of face masks, though enforcement could be left to local authorities for counties that opt out of the mandate. Johnson County, the location of the aforementioned restaurant, was among those to start following the mandate, and this area extends to the Kansas City suburbs bordering the neighbouring state Missouri.

“Those that didn’t want to wear a mask or check in, would leave in a huff,” Yake said in an email after initially putting up a sign inside the restaurant telling customers to check in at the front then wear a mask. A second and then a third bright-pink-bordered sign were displayed and social media posts were made – all explaining that masks are required before dining in.

Though some customers were vehemently opposed to the new policy, Yake said her restaurant did not suffer any dire consequences. Indeed, the requirement may actually be beneficial to her business. She said in an email: “We have been congratulated and thanked for taking a stand on the mask issue and doing everything we can to keep our customers and staff safe.”

Meanwhile, in Gaithersburg, Maryland, the opposite occurred at The Grille at Flower Hill. According to Bethesda Beat, a local publication, the establishment has been shut down until further notice after death threats were issued to the owner when he refused to follow the state order requiring masks for staff. There has yet to be any comment from the restaurant’s owner.

Alan Cobb, president of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, lobbied for the strict implementation of health measures like social distancing and face masks, calling them “vitally important.” However, Cobb was quick to add that “It should not be the responsibility of businesses to enforce mask mandates.” Cobb is adamant that state and local governments should be clear about their business requirements.

Meanwhile, Minneapolis attorney David Senseman consulted with small businesses on the implementation of the face mask policy. He said that government regulations are a “floor” and it is up to the businesses themselves to add in safety measures that should be well-received by customers.

Senseman explained that being clear and simple in explaining the mandates will help “many business owners realize, ‘Oh yeah, I’m not asking you to do much. I’m asking you to have a shirt on, I’m asking you to have shoes on and to put on a mask.’”