Face Mask Use and Physical Distancing Before and After Mandatory Masking: Evidence From Public Waiting Lines
31 Pages Posted: 2 Jul 2020 Last revised: 29 Oct 2020
Date Written: July 9, 2020
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the introduction of mandatory face mask usage was accompanied by heated debate. It is argued that community use of masks creates a false sense of security that could decrease physical distancing, thus making matters worse. We conducted a randomized field experiment in Berlin, Germany, to investigate whether masks lead to decreases in distancing and whether this mask effect interacts with the introduction of a mask mandate. Joining lines in front of stores, we measured the distance kept from the experimenter in two treatment conditions - the experimenter wore a mask in one and no face covering in the other - both before and after the introduction of mandatory mask use in stores. We find no evidence that mandatory masking has a negative effect on distance keeping. To the contrary, in our study masks significantly increase distancing and the effect does not differ between the two periods. However, we show that distances in the data collected after the mandate are shorter in locations where more stores, closed before the mandate, were allowed to open. These findings suggest that individuals take relaxations in the restrictions - that accompanied a general decrease in the severity of the pandemic - as an indication that they can also reduce other precautions, like keeping a safe distance.
Keywords: COVID-19; Face Masks; Social Distancing; Risk Compensation; Field Experiment; Health Policy
JEL Classification: I12, D9, C93
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation