State policies mandating public or community use of face masks or covers in mitigating the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) are hotly contested. This study provides evidence from a natural experiment on the effects of state government mandates for face mask use in public issued by fifteen states plus Washington, D.C., between April 8 and May 15, 2020. The research design is an event study examining changes in the daily county-level COVID-19 growth rates between March 31 and May 22, 2020. Mandating face mask use in public is associated with a decline in the daily COVID-19 growth rate by 0.9, 1.1, 1.4, 1.7, and 2.0 percentage points in 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, and 21 or more days after state face mask orders were signed, respectively. Estimates suggest that as a result of the implementation of these mandates, more than 200,000 COVID-19 cases were averted by May 22, 2020. The findings suggest that requiring face mask use in public could help in mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
Keywords: Covid-19; Evidence based decision making; Face masks; Health professionals; N95; Pandemics; Populations; Publish health; Researchers; State health policies; State mandates; coronavirus.