There is an emerging consensus on Wall Street and in the aisles of big box stores that the cheapest and easiest way to reopen the economy is to mandate everyone just wear a face mask, or if you prefer a “cloth face covering,” when they leave their house.
The Retail Industry Leaders Association, the trade group for big box retailers including Target, Home Depot, and the other major chains, sent a letter Monday to the National Governors Conference (and, notably, not the Trump Administration) urging governors nationwide to mandate people wear a mask while out in public. Employees are tired of confrontations with angry customers who defy store policy to wear masks, the retail group said.
“Retailers are alarmed with the instances of hostility and violence front-line employees are experiencing by a vocal minority of customers,” said Brian Dodge, president of RILA.
Analysts at Goldman Sachs, addressing investors worried about the economic consequences of new lockdowns because of cases surging in the Sun Belt, determined the cheapest alternative to lockdowns is a national face mask mandate. The researchers determined that a national mandate would increase the use of masks, particularly in those states where Republican governors have been been reluctant to mandate any inconveniences to stop the spread of COVID-19. Governor Greg Abbott of Texas did recently mandate masks statewide, but only after reopening the economy and triggering a tsunami of new infections.
“Our baseline estimate is that a national mandate could raise the percentage of people who wear masks by 15pp (percentage points) and cut the daily growth rate of confirmed cases by 1.0pp to 0.6%,” the Goldman Sachs researchers estimated. They note that “face mask usage is highest in the Northeast, where the virus situation has improved dramatically in recent months, and generally lower in the South, where the numbers have deteriorated.”
The researchers estimate the impact of a national mask mandate would be greatest in states without mask mandates, raising the number of people of routinely wear masks by 25pp. “The upshot of our analysis is that a national face mask mandate could potentially substitute for renewed lockdowns that would otherwise subtract nearly 5% from GDP,” they wrote.
The Trump Administration is unlikely to mandate face masks, even though other top Republicans, perhaps most notably Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have urged their use. President Trump pointedly refuses to wear a mask.