Wearing a mask won’t just prevent the spread of the coronavirus, it could also save the faltering American economy, according to a new Goldman Sachs study.
The investment bank’s top economists estimate that instituting a national face mask mandate could help the U.S. dodge a 5 percent decline in gross domestic product (GDP) this year without suffering the public health consequences of a viral resurgence.
That’s because widespread use of face masks would allow states to businesses to reopen more rapidly and recoup economic losses suffered during the lockdown. In mathematical terms, a national mandate would increase the percentage of people who wear face masks by 15 percent, Goldman’s study found, and reduce the daily growth rate of COVID-19 cases from the current 1.6 percent to 0.6 percent.
It’s important to note that the causal relationship between the use of face masks and growth rates of COVID-19 cases holds strong even when researchers change variables in public gatherings and interactions.
Wearing a face mask has gone from standard medical advice to the subject of political tug-of-war and a matter of cultural self-identification. About 20 states have issued state-wide mandates requiring people to wear face masks in public, while in others, such as Texas, Florida and Arizona, three of the largest COVID-19 hot spots, conservative resistance has stopped governors from mandating the use of masks.
To achieve the same viral reduction effect with a lockdown alone, Goldman Sachs found that their effective lockdown index, which measures the extent of quarantine policies, would have to increase 16 percentage, which would in effect reduce U.S. GDP by nearly 5 percent.
“We find that face masks are associated with significantly better coronavirus outcomes,” Goldman Sachs’ chief economist Jan Hatzius wrote in a note on Monday. “These calculations imply that a face mask mandate could potentially substitute for lockdowns that would otherwise subtract nearly 5 percent from GDP.”
Even if Goldman Sachs’ estimates aren’t precise, the analysis “suggests that the economic benefit from a face mask mandate and increased face mask usage could be sizable,” Hatzius wrote.
Since the first phase of U.S. reopening in early May, all 50 states have relaxed shelter-in-place orders to various degrees. But lately, seeing new COVID-19 cases surging again, a growing number of states have either paused reopening plans or reinstated lockdown restrictions.
As of this week, 10 states—Nevada, Michigan, Washington, Oregon, North Carolina, New Mexico, Louisiana, Idaho, Delaware, Arkansas—have paused reopening plans, according to The New York Times, while Arizona, California, Texas and Florida have closed certain economic sectors again.