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Washington University study finds mask mandates boost economy

The study found that social distancing reduced consumer spending, but mask mandates boosted it
Credit: Getty Images

ST. LOUIS — A Washington University study found that mask mandates are good for the economy, especially bars and restaurants.

The study conducted by the Olin Business School at Washington University found that consumer spending increased an average of 5% in counties requiring masks. The most significant increases were in nonessential businesses like restaurants and bars.

“The findings exceeded our expectations and show that we can have a strong economy with strong, commonsense public-health measures. Mask mandates are a win-win,” said Raphael Thomadsen, professor of marketing and study co-author.

The study found that social distancing had a large impact on reducing the spread of the coronavirus, but it also reduced consumer spending. Mask mandates, however, increased consumer spending.

“Preventive measures such as social distancing and facial masks should be considered as pro-business,” said Song Yao, associate professor of marketing. “When people feel safer to spend, or more importantly, when the pandemic is kept at bay, the economy is more likely to have a quick recovery. Not to mention the lives that will be saved.”

The team used cellphone location data to track the degree of social distancing in nearly every county in the country and compared it with community voting patterns, coronavirus infection rates and consumer spending.

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The study also found political affiliation had a significant impact on social distancing. Counties that voted for President Donald Trump in 2016 "engaged in significantly less social distancing" even after accounting for things like population density and other demographics.

The study estimated an additional 83,000 people would have died if every area followed low levels of social distancing of the counties that supported Trump in 2016. That decision would have resulted in an economic recovery of $55.4 billion, or 9%.

“The calls to open up the economy come with huge costs of COVID spread and only modest benefits of increased economic activity,” Thomadsen said. “Opening the economy before getting the virus under control only makes sense if you put a very low value on life.”

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