National mandate on mask-wearing could work better than lockdowns, new report suggests

A national mask mandate could be more effective than lockdowns, and could save the U.S. from a 5 percent hit to economic growth, according to a new report from investment giant Goldman Sachs.

“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 percentage point,” Jan Hatzius, Goldman’s chief economist, wrote in the note to clients.

“These calculations imply that a face mask mandate could potentially substitute for lockdowns that would otherwise subtract nearly 5 percent from GDP,” Hatzius continued.

The new analysis comes as cases of COVID-19 are rising sharply in Sun Belt states, including those that pursued an accelerated timeline for phased reopening.

The researchers analyzed the impact the introduction of masks had on infections and fatalities in the U.S. after state mandates went into effect, and across countries, comparing when mask mandates started and when masks began to be used. They found mask usage was associated with better overall outcomes.

“A national mask mandate could increase US face mask usage by statistically significant and economically large amounts, especially in states such as Florida and Texas that currently don’t have a comprehensive mandate and are seeing some of the worst outbreaks,” Jan Hatzius, Goldman’s chief economist, wrote in the note to clients.

The report cautioned their findings are based on several different combined statistics that have errors in measurements.

It also acknowledged that mask wearing has become a political and cultural statement and that the reality of a national mask mandate was “uncertain.”

“However, even in the absence of a national mandate, state and local authorities might well broaden mandates in ways that ultimately mimic the impact of a national mandate,” the researchers wrote. “Either way, our analysis suggests that the economy could benefit significantly from such moves, especially when compared with the alternative of a return to broader lockdowns.”