From Edina to Duluth, communities in Minnesota are again seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases. But, unlike the early days of this pandemic, we now have at least some data to make more informed decisions about how to slow the spread of this virus.
That data tell us widespread use of masks will reduce transmission, save lives and even help our economy.
As the Star Tribune noted in its July 9 editorial “Minnesota needs a mask mandate,” 45,000 fewer Americans will die from COVID-19 by Nov. 1, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), if mask wearing is “universal.”
Other IHME data also suggest that we could cut mortality by up to half in many countries, including the United States. In Minnesota, the IHME predicts masking would equate to 195 fewer deaths by November.
Similarly, the Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, published a review that showed using face masks alone could result in a 14.3% reduction in risk of infection.
These data are not simply conjecture, either.
Between April 8 and May 15, fifteen states and the District of Columbia enacted policies mandating public or community use of face masks to slow the spread of COVID-19. Case numbers in these states during roughly the same period dropped steadily every five days. This is a clear indicator that masks can help us save lives from COVID-19.
Meanwhile, there’s mounting concern about how this pandemic is impacting our country’s financial health.
While masks won’t be a miracle cure for our economy, they may well be a golden parachute, of sorts. According to analysts at Goldman Sachs, wearing a mask could keep gross domestic product from falling about 5%. That’s a savings of roughly $279 billion for our economy.
Every day we come to work looking for ways to improve the health and well-being of our communities. Right now, masking will do just that.
We’re asking our patients to wear them in clinic and keep them on during visits with clinicians. We’re encouraging our members to wear them at work and in public. And, we’re helping businesses incorporate them into back-to-work strategies as they reopen for business.
While we work toward a vaccine and more effective treatments against COVID-19, wearing a mask slows down virus spread and will reduce pressure on the economy by enabling people to engage more safely in community activity. Wearing masks is the right thing to do.
Nico Pronk is president of HealthPartners Institute, chief science officer for HealthPartners and an adjunct professor at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health. Dr. Pat Courneya is chief health plan medical officer for HealthPartners.