Guest Editorial: The Economics of Masks and COVID

By Recker McDowell —

The debate over masks and the rise in COVID-19 cases in Arizona has become very political.

It shouldn’t be.

The motivation for wearing a mask (if it is not about protecting the health of seniors and your neighbors) should be about the economy and jobs.

We get that the lectures and pushes for mask mandates from the media as well as politicians and social media blue checkmarks can be counterproductive, patronizing and spark a ‘you can’t tell me what to do’ reactions.

But let us forget the politics and wagging Twitter fingers surrounding masks. Let us even forget that the masks can help protect seniors, our neighbors, loved ones and friends.

There is an economic self-interest in wearing masks in crowds or when at the store or out and about.

Veteran Arizona economist Elliott Pollack made the economic argument during a recent virtual forum.

“If you have a resurgence in Arizona it’s going to slow a recovery,” Pollack said.

There are already segments of the population hesitant to travel or go to a restaurant or concert because of worries about the Coronavirus.

Pollack said for the economy to get back to more normal levels and recover more of the jobs lost to COVID those reluctant and reticent consumers need to have confidence to get back out into the economy again.

“As long as people are concerned about COVID you are not going to get sufficient consumer spending to get back to normal,” Pollack said.

COVID-19 cases were up again today in Arizona with 2,392 new cases today bringing the statewide total to 39,097.

Arizona has 539 COVID cases per 100,000 people, according to the New York Times. That ranks 21st among U.S. states and the District of Columbia. New York (2,001) and Illinois (1,059) are among the states with higher per capita COVID rates. California (397) and Florida (373) ae among those with lower per capita rates.

The Phoenix metro area, Yuma and Nogales have been seeing a rise in cases prompting calls for more people to wear masks. Some are calling for mask mandates.

The latter stirs up the visceral politics of masks. But the idea of wearing masks for the right reasons including to help the economy and jobs should resonate.