Every face mask worn consistently in public in the US is worth at least $3000 to society, a new study shows. Or, to put that differently, every American who chooses not to wear a mask is costing the rest of us at least that much.
This eye-opening calculation comes to us from a team of medical, public health and economic experts at Yale University. You can find a preprint of their paper here .
The researchers cite several lines of evidence to arrive at their estimate:
--As of the date of their study, countries with pre-existing norms for mask-wearing by sick people experienced a 44 percent slower growth rate in Covid-19 cases and a 48 percent slower growth in the number of deaths than countries without such norms. Those effects remained significant even the authors controlled for other mitigating factors statistically. The researchers note that mask-wearing is equally important for people who aren't sick, since we know that a significant percentage of people infected by the SARS-NCoV-2 virus can remain asymptomatic yet still spread the virus.
Although the above statistics indicate that universal mask-wearing would reduce the rate of viral transmissionthe much-discussed r factor--by much more than 10 percent, the authors decided to use a 10 percent reduction as an extremely conservative estimate.
--When they plugged that relatively minimal reduction into a widely used model for the trajectory of the pandemic along with commonly used estimates of the costs to society of premature or excess deaths, the result was a conservative estimate of $3000 to $6000 of benefit to society for every person who wears a mask consistently.
The researchers add that this estimate is extra-conservative since it only looks at excess deaths and doesn't include the costs to society of hundreds of thousands or millions of sick people. Nor does it count fewer cases and deaths among the mask-wearers themselves. "Our estimates," they write, ". . . suggest that the effect of masks could be 5-6 times as large."
The authors provide a separate analysis for the benefit of highly effective N95 masks for front-line health care providers, who, as we've learned, are at particularly high risk of contracting the SARS-NCoV-2 virus and passing it on. In addition, they are absolutely necessary to treat the sick and save lives. "Multiplying these factors together," they write, "the social value of each N95 mask for a healthcare worker could easily be more than a million dollars per mask."
The researchers conclude by pointing out that the availability of such a simple, cheap and effective intervention is a rarity. "Outside of crises, policies do not exist where a few dollars of expenditure per person can produce thousands of dollars in benefit. We are in a rare moment when such benefits are achievable--this is an urgent crisis and action is necessary."
As we know, there is still no universal mask-wearing mandate from the federal government, nor is there likely to be one as long as Trump remains in office. However, according to a National Geographic assessment , 44 states have mandated mask-wearing under at least some conditions, and 74 percent of Americans polled say they "always" wear a mask when out.
Unfortunately, many Republicans continue to receive the opposite message from the President and from conservative media. As a result, while 84 percent of self-identified Democrats say they always wear a mask, just 66 percent of Republicans say they do. The largest gap--a 22 percent difference--is between Democratic and Republican women, reporting 89 and 67 percent mask wearing respectively.
That politically determined difference implies more than 13 million extra non-mask-wearers. At $3000 per person, that means they are costing the rest of us at least $39 billion.
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