SALT LAKE CITY – On Monday, Gov. Gary Herbert called in economic experts to support his continuing statewide mask mandate.
“Today, we come to you with some good news to share,” said Dr. Taylor Randall, dean of the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah. “We’ve known for months that wearing masks is helpful to the health of our community. Today, we can also report some recent findings that suggest that mask wearing is also good for our economy.”
Following a study of all 3,142 counties in the United States, Randall explained, researchers at the Marriner S. Eccles Institute for Economics and Quantitative Analysis at the U of U found “significant evidence that health and economics go hand-in-hand.”
“At the core of this relationship, is mask-wearing and consumer confidence,” according to Randall. “There appears to be an increased ability for consumers to engage in our economy if they feel safe and they are wearing masks.
“Statewide mask mandates play a real key role in this. We see that, in case of statewide mask mandates, we get a triple-play effect. We see reduced COVID cases, increased consumer mobility and also increased consumer spending.”
The dean added that the same economic benefits are not seen when a county imposes a similar mandate at local level.
“So I echo the governor’s sentiment when he says: ‘Mask Up, Utah,’ both to protect our health, our businesses and our jobs,” Randall emphasized.
Herbert has repeatedly boasted that, despite the coronavirus outbreak, Utah’s economy continues to out-perform that of most other states in the nation. While acknowledging that, Randall observes that 67,000 Utahns are out of work, that the statewide economy is showing signs of contraction and that Utah has already spent most of its available federal CARES Act stimulus funding.
“Even in one of the best performing economies in the nation,” Randalls suggested, “I think that we should view our economic health as relatively fragile.”
That assessment makes the findings of the recent Eccles Institute study a “pretty big deal,” he said, “because we’ve got to find a way to bridge the health of our economy between now and when vaccines are widely distributed.”
Whether Randall’s endorsement of the statewide mask mandate will lessen the political heat that Herbert is enduring over the issue remains to be seen.
In recent weeks, anti-mask protestors have picketed at the homes of Herbert and governor-elect Spencer Cox. Herbert’s relations with legislative oversight panels have also become increasingly stormy over what conservative lawmakers view as executive overreach in the state’s response to the ongoing pandemic.
Even more troubling is the question of whether the Eccles Institute’s findings actually apply to Utah’s situation.
In Randall’s presentation, he admitted that beneficial consumer confidence seems to result from “a combination” of the imposition of a statewide mask mandate and the subsequent lowering of COVID-19 case counts.
After resisting calls for a statewide mask mandate for four months, COVID-19 cases have actually increased since Herbert issued his executive order on Nov. 8.
On that date, Utah health officials reported 2,386 new cases of COVID-19 statewide. In the two weeks since then, a total of 49,185 new cases of coronavirus cases have been reported in Utah, for a daily average of 3,074 cases.
At least some of that average case count increase may be attributable to record case spikes of 3,919 on Nov. 12, 3,968 on Nov. 19 and 4,588 on Nov. 20.