COVID-19 is having a resurgence.
As of Friday, July 3, data from the Covid Tracking Project showed that the 7-day average number of daily new US cases rose to 47,244, a 37% increase relative to 34,476 the previous Friday. The percent of cases testing positive rose to 7.5% from 6.4% one week earlier.
Texas and Florida are particularly hard hit. Texas reported a 47% increase in hospitalizations Monday compared to a week ago while Florida posted a record high of nearly 11,500 cases on July 4.
To reduce the spread of COVID-19 public health experts and the CDC recommend “that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings when around people outside of their household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain,”
Despite this, it is obvious that many individuals, particularly in Southern states are refusing to wear masks.
While driving to and from Tulsa, Oklahoma over the recent Father’s Day Weekend we were surprised that very few individuals were wearing masks in the convenience stores, gas stations and rest stops we entered. Similarly, my daughter related that during her recent drive from North Carolina through Tennessee, western Kentucky and southern Illinois to St. Louis almost no one was wearing masks indoors.
At the Trump rally in Tulsa perhaps 1 in 50 attendees were wearing masks inside the BOK Center.
What can we do to convince these non-mask-wearers (NWMs) to mask up?
A common reason cited for not wearing masks is that it represents an infringement on personal freedom. This concept prompted a tweet from the US Surgeon General
The infodemic of internet-based news, pseudoscience, and opinion that has sprung from the pandemic feeds into the failure to wear masks.
Kaiser Health News has pointed out that conflicting Covid-19 messages are creating confusion around public health and prevention. NewsGuard has identified 217 websites in Europe and the United States that publish “materially false” information about COVID-19.
Appeal to the Pocketbook
Perhaps an appeal to the pocketbook could convince the NMWs?
My financial advisor, Stuart Coats, sent out an email to clients over the July 4th weekend which included an excellent discussion which emphasized the economic and financial consequences of not wearing masks:
I can’t emphasize enough how the resurgence of COVID-19 in the US is a huge threat to our economic recovery. It only takes a single chart to demonstrate how inadequate our response has been. The chart below compares daily reported cases in the US (red line) to the European Union (blue line). Keep in mind the population of the EU is about one-third more than the US and the EU population density is three times that of the US. Our nation is richer than the EU and spends far more of GDP on healthcare and yet, while we were seeing about the same number of daily cases at the beginning of April, the EU proceeded to crush their new cases over about a month while we saw more of a plateau with downward drift over 2 months and then a massive spiking starting in the middle of June. As a result, many states are having to backpedal on their reopening plans and finally acknowledge the importance of wearing a mask.
A new study from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects that near-universal wearing of face masks could save 18,000 to 28,000 lives nationwide just by October 1. A recent report from Goldman Sachs suggests that a national mask mandate could partially substitute for renewed lockdowns in states with surging cases and prevent a 5% reduction in gross domestic product.
A recent survey done at the state level by data collection company Premise looked at the frequency of people always wearing a mask when going out. It found usage ranging from only 15% in Tennessee to 62% in Massachusetts. It is probably no coincidence that Tennessee is currently seeing a massive spike in cases to record-setting levels (now 10th worst state in the nation on a per capita basis) while Massachusetts which was once a national hotspot, now has a lower per capita rate of new cases than all but six other states.
It should be clear to all of us by now that wearing a mask is not only a neighborly thing to do, the life it could save could be your own or that of a relative or friend and wearing a mask is also good for jobs and for your portfolio value.
Stuart ends with a comparison of mask-wearing to the sacrifices our Founding Fathers made which I hope resonates with all liberty-loving Americans.
“If the signers of the Declaration were willing to mutually pledge to each other their lives, their fortune and their sacred honor, surely during a pandemic, we can manage the inconvenience of wearing a mask in public for the sake of our mutual health and economic well-being.”
Perhaps we can have the above sentence printed and displayed prominently in all public places where we can’t maintain social distancing. Will this appeal to economics overcome all the misinformation and misguidance that is out there?