Ed Bastian is CEO of Delta Air Lines. Jonathan Lewin, MD is CEO of Emory Healthcare and executive vice president for Health Affairs for Emory University. The opinion expressed in this commentary are their own.
With the number of US Covid-19 infections closing in on 4 million this week, the country’s response to the pandemic is at a critical point now more than ever before. We are seeing a rapid rise in new infections across America at the same time that we continue to learn more about this complex and potentially deadly virus.
Amid all the fear and confusion, one thing has become clear: Face masks help dramatically slow down infection rates. Given those scientific facts, we feel that it is our duty to ask everyone — employees, patients, customers, friends, family members and government officials — to wear masks when they are in public.
Wearing a mask is currently the best, most readily available and most efficient defense method. It shows our consideration and concern for those around us — especially those who are most vulnerable. So, why are some Americans still struggling to a wear mask in public, despite proven results that they help protect ourselves, our coworkers, our friends and our families?
As the CEOs of Delta Air Lines and Emory Healthcare, we both approach this from a business as well as a health care perspective. Every day we see how the use of masks protects those around us. That is why we have made masks mandatory within our respective organizations and urge elected officials at all levels to require masks in public spaces.
The effectiveness of wearing a mask is indisputable. According to a recent study, Covid-19 infections would statistically drop to approximately one-twelfth the number of infections if 80% of Americans wore masks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has repeatedly said that a simple cloth mask is a way to contain respiratory secretions right at the source and not put other people at risk. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has noted that we could avoid 33,000 American deaths by October 1 if at least 95% of people wore masks. Losing one person to this disease is one too many. If wearing a mask could save 33,000 lives, why are some fighting it?
Moreover, the consistent and widespread use of masks across the country would have a significant, positive impact on the economy while lowering infection rates. According to an extensive analysis by Jan Hatzius, chief economist of Goldman Sachs, a national mandate would increase face mask use by 15%, cutting the growth rate of confirmed cases. Not only would this save lives, but Hatzius and his team found that this measure could “potentially substitute for lockdowns that would otherwise subtract nearly 5% from GDP.”
In simple terms, if we all committed to wearing masks, we could help our economy and limit the potential need to revisit the nationwide lockdowns that have devastated so many Americans in recent months.
The data is clear — masks save lives and they help to support our economy. They will help get us back to pre-pandemic activities, both socially and economically, more quickly and safely.
If you have ever traveled on Delta — even before the pandemic — you have heard that “your safety is our No. 1 priority.” This is more than a slogan — it’s the Delta culture. Making air travel safe is the foundation of all we do, whether we’re dealing with a snowstorm or a virus. Airlines have a strong safety track record, with less than 0.01 fatalities per 100,000 departures. This safety culture tells us that these are the right actions to take to protect the health and safety of our people, the traveling public, airport workers and, importantly, their families and those with whom they come in contact.
Universal masking is key to building on the efforts that the travel industry has implemented for our combined safety and security. Those efforts include new advanced health screenings for passengers, updated cleaning techniques on planes and in airports, the use of hospital-grade HEPA filters on flights to safely recirculate air, adjusted boarding processes to encourage social distancing and more. Some airlines, including Delta, are also continuing to limit flight capacity and block the middle seat to allow for social distancing between passengers.
Another industry committed to the safety of its customers and employees is health care. Through the work of the National Academy of Medicine, we at Emory Healthcare have learned firsthand how universal masking protects our employees and patients. Hospitals that have mandated wearing masks are among the safest places to be right now.
We will continue to do everything possible to fight this disease and ensure the health and safety of everyone who flies or who comes into our health care facilities. But we can’t do this alone. We need the help and support of those we responsibly serve.
Wearing a mask is a simple and effective action that each and every one of us can — and should — do when they are in close contact with others. Do it for your family. Do it for your country. Do it for the countless men and women who have given their time and energy to protect the rest of us. Do it for the over half a million people worldwide, including more than 140,000 Americans, who have tragically lost their lives as a result of this terrible virus.
We all have a role to play, and we can all make a difference. So please, wear a mask — we are all depending on you.