In economics, there is the concept of externalities (third-party effects) – costs or benefits that a third party incurs in a transaction. It can be negative or positive. Here are a few examples. First, negative externalities. Passive smoking – Mr A (first party) buys a cigarette in the store (second party), Mr C (third party), who does not smoke and had nothing to do with the store, inhales the smoke and is adversely affected. Scruffy Neighborhood – Mr. D (first party) rents a house from Mr. E (second party) and does not keep his yard and surroundings clean. You (third parties) who live next door to the tenant lose real estate value due to the unkempt garden, so you are negatively affected. Third, Mr. X (first party) wears heavy perfume (seller is second party) and goes to a senior center where one of the residents (third party) who has allergies becomes ill. They were negatively affected by something they were not involved in.
Now the positive external side. You (first party) go to the health department (second party) and get vaccinated against COVID-19, this benefits others who are not vaccinated (third party) because they don’t get it from you. Now for my final example, John (first party) wears a face mask he bought at the store (second party) to avoid spreading his cold. He hangs out with his friends (third party) and they don’t catch colds due to his protective mask.
Folks, I quote these examples for a very simple reason. COVID is still here with us. There are 200 million high-risk individuals in our country who have underlying health conditions and can contract COVID and be in distress. This is especially true for minorities https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#demographics. People are still dying from COVID, and while immunization status helps, it doesn’t guarantee full protection. I’ve had four COVID shots and I know I can still get the disease. Currently, more than 300 Americans are dying from COVID every day. One death is more than enough and matters more when it involves a loved one.
Hardly anyone wears a face mask anymore. Well I do. I’m one of the few people who still wear one and I haven’t seen anyone on our campus wearing one lately. Leaders should lead by example. I remember when COVID started I was criticized for wearing a mask — that was before the CDC recommended it. The person made a tongue-in-cheek comment saying, “You’re the leader, you know”; that was meant as criticism.
I go to many places where I feel uncomfortable because I’m the only one wearing a mask. Here are some examples: at the airport and on a recent flight, multiple local events involving hundreds of people, sporting events, local town meetings, local restaurants and retail outlets. I felt compelled to write this article because no fewer than four people I’ve interacted with recently have tested positive for COVID and incidents are increasing on our campus. I’m not as worried about myself as I am about my 4 year old Omari; I have to protect him.
According to a USNews.com article, https://www.usnews.com/news/the-report/articles/2023-03-10/three-years-into-the-pandemic-who-is-dying-from – covid-19-now, at the beginning of the pandemic, the COVID-19 death rate was significantly higher among black Americans than white people. dr Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association, says many of the first people affected by the pandemic had no way of staying at home, whether because of work or other commitments. “These people are usually people of color. If they did get infected, they were much more likely to be hospitalized. And because we have these underlying health disparities that disproportionately affect communities of color — heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, more high blood pressure — early evidence showed that if you had those chronic diseases, these populations were much more likely to get sick and die if you get COVID .
I will continue to wear my mask in public because it not only protects me but also others. A positive externality is a good thing for society as a whole, a negative one is not.
Kojo Quartey, Ph.D., is President of Monroe County Community College and an economist.