For months, you’ve heard health professionals and civic leaders urge you to “do your part” by wearing a mask to slow the spread of COVID-19. While mask-wearing has been the cause of heated debates across the country, a recent poll by National Geographic found that most Americans are on board with the face coverings.
But how do masks impact the health of the U.S. economy?
According to a recent University of Utah study, wearing a mask might be the best thing you can do to support businesses in your area.
Regardless of how you feel about them, here are a few things you should know about the impact masks can have on the country’s economic health.
The study, which was conducted by researchers at the Marriner S. Eccles Institute for Economics and Quantitative Analysis at the David Eccles School of Business, looked at the impact of mask orders across all 3,142 U.S. counties.
They found that mask requirements led to an increase in economic activity -- but statewide mandates worked better than those at the county level.
“Statewide mask mandates are much more effective at both saving lives and livelihoods,” said University of Utah economics professor Nathan Seegert, who co-authored the study. “They have a much larger effect on the economy. They boost consumer confidence more than these county mandates."
According to the study, consumer spending decreases in counties with mask requirements because people perceive that there’s a higher risk in their area. This makes them less likely to venture out into public or patronize businesses.
Not only do masks spur more economic activity, they’ve also been shown to decrease transmission of COVID-19.
The study found that mask requirements lead to a reduction of approximately 10 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people per day, as compared to case counts before the mandate was made.
This research is consistent with a recent CDC report, which found that widespread community mitigation measures (such as mask wearing) helped slow the spread of COVID-19.
The study also found that consumers appreciate when safety precautions are taken seriously by establishments and fellow shoppers.
“If people feel safe, they’re going to go out and spend more,” Seegert said.
A Utah consumer sentiment survey conducted as part of this study found people would be 13% more likely to go to a store if there was a 10% decrease in COVID-19 cases.
51% of people were more likely to go to a store if everyone was wearing a mask.
50% of people were more likely to go to a store if the store enforced wearing masks.
On the other hand, the survey found that Utahns would be 13% less likely to go to a store if only half the people there were wearing a mask.
Feeling safer also contributes to greater consumer mobility (or movement within an economy).
“Mask requirements can increase consumer confidence by making economic activity safer—in this way, health and economics reinforce each other,” Seegert said.
Though mask mandates may be more effective at the state level, that doesn’t mean counties shouldn’t enforce their own requirements.
The data shows that consumer spending increases in counties with mask requirements, as opposed to counties with no mask requirements.
To those who refuse to wear masks, Taylor Randall, dean of the David Eccles School of Business, offers a word of warning.
“If you choose to not wear masks, you’re causing the confidence of your community to decrease, which means you’ll see reduced economic activity,” Randall said.
“To me, the findings are fairly compelling that if we want to push the boundary, meaning we want to have better health and a better economy during this really critical time, we really should just wear masks.”
Even after reading about one study, you may still have questions. Do you still need to wear a mask if you’re not sick? How effective are masks at preventing the spread of COVID-19?
Check out these frequently asked questions and helpful resources on masks from Intermountain Healthcare and learn more about the #MaskUpUtah initiative.