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

"A national mask mandate could increase U.S. face mask usage by statistically significant and economically large amounts," the report concluded.
A customer wears a mask as he gets a haircut at Ace of Cuts barbershop in New York City on June 22.John Minchillo / AP

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

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

COVID-19 cases are rising sharply in Sun Belt states, including those that pursued accelerated timelines for phased-in reopenings.

The researchers analyzed the impact the introduction of masks had on infections and deaths in the U.S. after state mandates went into effect, as well as across countries, comparing when mask mandates started and when masks began to be used. They found that 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," Hatzius wrote.

The report cautioned that its findings are based on several 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 is "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."