A woman wearing a mask in New York City. Financial experts believe that the virus-suppression effect of wearing face masks helps to preserve economic activity. Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

Wearing masks could prevent a 5% loss in GDP, Goldman Sachs says

Janet Nguyen Jun 30, 2020
A woman wearing a mask in New York City. Financial experts believe that the virus-suppression effect of wearing face masks helps to preserve economic activity. Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

A national mandate for Americans to wear face masks could save almost 5% of gross domestic product, according to an analysis from Goldman Sachs. 

“We find that face masks are associated with significantly better coronavirus outcomes,” the investment bank said in a report distributed to clients. “A face mask mandate could potentially substitute for lockdowns that would otherwise subtract nearly 5% from GDP.”

In April, the Commerce Department announced that the country’s GDP fell 4.8% in the first quarter, its biggest quarterly drop since the Great Recession. 

Janet Nguyen/Marketplace

Right now, 20 states and the District of Columbia require residents to wear masks either in all public places where social distancing isn’t possible, most public indoor spaces or in businesses, according to the organization #Masks4All. Other states have more limited mask requirements.

The Goldman Sachs research says a national mandate could raise the number of people who wear masks by 15 percentage points and cut the daily growth rate of confirmed coronavirus cases by 1 percentage point to 0.6%.

The report’s authors noted that the U.S. is among the less restrictive countries when it comes to face mask mandates.

The mere act of wearing a mask in the country has become a political issue, with Democrats more likely to say they wear masks than Republicans and President Donald Trump refusing to don a mask in public. Videos have also captured customers who have been confronted over not wearing masks.

The report estimated that statewide mask mandates increase the number of people who “always” or “frequently” wear masks by 25 percentage points in the 30 days after the order was signed.

It also found that cumulative COVID-19 cases grow 17.3% per week without a mask mandate, but only 7.3% with such an order.

These findings are in line with other studies that have shown the effectiveness of policies that call for mask wearing amid the pandemic. Mandates in 15 states, along with the District of Columbia, may have helped prevent between 230,000 and 450,000 cases of COVID-19 by May 22, according to a study from Health Affairs. Another study found that “countries with cultural norms or government policies supporting mask-wearing” had lower death rates.

However, while the Goldman Sachs report focuses on the importance of masks specifically and the economic side of the question, experts point to a range of measures needed to combat the public health threat that is COVID-19.

Lynn Goldman, dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, told Marketplace it will also take widespread testing and social distancing until we have a vaccine.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out recently from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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