The coronavirus has plunged the world into a “crisis like no other.” Further, the pandemic has devastated the worldwide economy.
While the impact of COVID-19 has been significant, there is a debate about how much social distancing and masking policies have affected both the death rates and the level of consumer spending.
In communities where masks were mandated, consumer spending increased by 5% on average, showing that a safety rule can stimulate economic growth.
A new study from the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, thus, examines the role of these effects on both the spread of COVID-19 and the level of consumer spending.
Scientists found that the effect was greatest among non-essential businesses, including those in the retail and entertainment industries — such as restaurants and bars — that were hit hard by the pandemic.
Raphael Thomadsen, professor of marketing and study co-author, said, “The findings exceeded our expectations and showed that we could have a strong economy with strong, commonsense public health measures. Mask mandates are a win-win.”
Scientists analyzed the impact of social distancing and mask mandates on both the spread of COVID-19 and consumer spending. They used cellphone location data to track the degree of social separating in essentially every county in the U.S. They then compared that data with community voting patterns, coronavirus infection rates, and consumer spending rates.
Scientists identified that social distancing significantly impacts reducing COVID-19 spread, while the evidence on mask mandates is mixed. But while social distancing reduces consumer spending, mask mandates have the opposite effect. They also found that social distancing decreased in communities with mask mandates, magnifying the positive impact on spending.
Olin’s Song Yao, associate professor of marketing, said, “Preventive measures such as social distancing and facial masks should be considered as pro-business. When people feel safer to spend, or more importantly, when the pandemic is kept at bay, the economy is more likely to recover quickly. Not to mention the lives that will be saved.”
Perhaps not surprising given the political lines drawn over masks, they also observed that political affiliation significantly impacted social distancing.