Friday, June 12, 2020

Seat Belts and Face Masks

by Calculated Risk on 6/12/2020 02:16:00 PM

I believe there is a strong parallel here (and an economic argument).

Auto manufacturers started offering seat belts as an option back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Early research showed that wearing a seat belt dramatically reduced deaths and serious injuries in car crashes.  But most people thought they’d never have an accident, so few people bought the optional seat belts.

With the rising costs of preventable deaths and serious injuries in the 1960s, it was easy to show that the savings from mandating seat belts would far outweigh the cost of all cars having seat belts. So, in 1968, the US passed a law mandating seat belts in all new vehicles.

This was strongly opposed by various anti-seat belt groups – this was “socialism” and impinged on their individual freedom. Many people refused to wear the seat belts, so eventually most state required the use of seat belts.

Further research has shown that the savings from mandating seat belts has been enormous in both lives and cost to society.

That brings us to face masks during a pandemic. Studies show that wearing a face mask substantially reduces the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

Masks offer some protection to the person wearing the mask, but masks offer significant protection to the people that the mask wearer encounters.  So, when you pass someone wearing a mask – thank them – they are wearing the mask for you!

Unfortunately, there is a strong anti-mask group in the US.  They have harassed public health officials into resigning, and convinced some politicians to make mask wearing optional. These people are making the “socialism” argument and asserting their individual freedom.

The evidence is overwhelming that ubiquitous mask wearing significantly reduces the transmission of the virus, saving lives, reducing medical costs, and boosting the economy. The benefits of wearing masks far outweigh the negligible costs.

The bottom line is the US should follow the lead of other countries and mandate mask wearing during the pandemic – with strong enforcement and significant fines for those not wearing masks.