A new study using worldwide data found that early implementation of mask mandates was consistently associated with lower infection rates in both the short- and long-term when compared against other common COVID-19 mitigation measures. In the short-term, quick mask mandates were also associated with lower mortality rates.
Published in the Public Administration Review, the study used data from the Reponse2covid19 dataset collected between Jan. 1, 2020 and July 15, 2020 from 188 nations to evaluate six different COVID-19 mitigation measures: mask mandates, domestic lockdowns, international travel bans, mass gathering bans, and restaurant and school closures.
The authors – including USC Price alumnus and Georgia Institute of Technology School of Public Policy Professor Brian An, Simon Porcher of the IAE Paris-Sorbonne Business School, Shiu-Yan Tang of USC Price, and Eunji Emily Kim, also of the Georgia Institute of Technology – found that, despite the success of mask-wearing in reducing infections and deaths, this intervention was the least frequently utilized government tactic during the first global wave of the pandemic; and when it was enacted, it was often adopted later. In fact, implementation was often flipped – governments would mandate lockdowns, bans and closures prior to mask-wearing.
The remaining five tactics (domestic lockdowns, international travel bans, mass gathering bans, and restaurant and school closures) show less consistent efficacy. For example, mass gathering bans and school closures have some short term effects, but it takes a bit longer, several weeks, to manifest their effects.
Shiu-Yan Tang, professor and chair of USC Price’s department of government and management, said, “As the spread of COVID-19 continues globally, governments need to understand the extent to which early implementation of mask mandates can be an effective option for mitigating the spread of COVID, while also helping to save lives and minimize public cost. Early adoption is still possible, and our data show that this intervention offers the best long-term outcomes.”
The study’s authors’ conclusion posed the question of how the world may have looked differently had more governments mandated mask-wearing earlier on instead of relying on more costly measures that ultimately were shown to be less effective, such as domestic lockdowns and restaurant closures.
Read the full study here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/puar.13426
Frances R. and John J. Duggan Professor in Public Administration
Chair, Department of Governance and Management