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Everyone wearing face masks could save America from a $1 trillion GDP loss

Ex-CDC director on coronavirus surge
Ex-CDC director on coronavirus surge 04:22

Wearing a mask doesn't just save lives, it can also help people save money. If the United States were to mandate that all Americans wear masks, it would save the country from deleterious economic lockdowns that would reduce the gross domestic product by 5%, or about $1 trillion, according to an analysis by Goldman Sachs. 

Individual households would feel the reduction too: A sharp decrease in GDP like that equals higher prices for fewer goods and services, and also fewer jobs, economists note. Assuming universal mask wearing prevents a 5% loss to GDP, the habit would lead to roughly $3,000 in savings per person in the U.S.  

"The overall macro impact of not wearing a mask on the economy will have a potentially devastating impact on individuals and families," said Chris Foster, the former worldwide chief operating officer of advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi. He's now advocating for widespread mask use as chief management officer of School Mask Pack, which sells non-medical mask kits for families. 

Not to mention that if you contract coronavirus and are uninsured, you could face thousands of dollars in medical bills. Even those people who are insured and face deductibles could be responsible for high treatment costs. A COVID-19 hospital stay can top $20,000, with individuals paying an average of at least $1,300 in out-of-pocket costs, according to a Kaiser analysis.

The economic argument for masking up

The public health benefits of mask wearing are, by now, well-documented. A variety of cloth face coverings help prevent the coronavirus from spreading to others by blocking the wearer's respiratory droplets, which, if the individual is infected, can spread the virus through coughs, sneezes, or even regular speech. 

But for those naysayers who aren't persuaded by the public health benefits of wearing a mask — like in Texas, where a growing number of sheriffs refuse to follow Governor Greg Abbott's executive order requiring masks in public — might want to consider the economic argument for masking up, Foster said 

Texas police refuse to enforce mask mandate 02:48

Widespread mask wearing has been linked to lower coronavirus transmission rates in communities across the United States, which allows them to more quickly reopen their economies. In other words, covering one's face reduces the need for broad lockdowns that would otherwise subtract that 5% from GDP that Goldman Sachs identified. 

"When we don't have a healthy growing economy, we don't have jobs, disposable income, we're not spending on goods and service and it becomes a vicious cycle," Foster said. 

While there is no national mask mandate in the U.S., some states and cities are requiring that residents wear masks in public when social distancing is not possible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also recommended that Americans wear cloth face coverings in public. 

Americans appear to be heeding this advice: About 70% of Americans say they wear masks in public, according to Goldman Sachs. Under a national mandate, mask wearing would increase by 15 percentage points, to 85%, according to Goldman Sachs. That in turn would cut the daily growth rate of coronavirus cases down from 1% to 0.6% — and help prevent financially harmful lockdowns. 

Getting kids back to school, parents to work

Lower transmission rates can also help schools reopen, freeing parents from daytime childcare responsibilities that have left them unable to work, even from home. Women in particular have been forced out of the workforce because childcare tends to fall on their shoulders

"If we can normalize mask wearing, that's the fastest way to get kids back in school, parents working, people buying stuff and getting the economy chugging," Foster said. 

How do we get people to take COVID-19 serious... 10:10

  Now, there's an economic argument for mask wearing that might just sway the remaining few who are reluctant to wear masks to protect others. 

"There are lots of other reasons to wear masks — for the social good and the moral imperative — but for some folks, monetary arguments hold the most sway," Foster said.  

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