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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

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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