Powell: Masks, social distancing will give US 'enormous economic gains'

Powell: Masks, social distancing will give US 'enormous economic gains'
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Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Friday that the U.S. could reap a massive economic boost through wearing masks and maintaining social distance to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

In a Friday interview with NPR, the Fed chief gave his strongest endorsement yet of two measures experts deem highly effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19 and allowing economic activity to inch closer to normal.

"There's actually enormous economic gains to be had nationwide from people wearing masks and keeping their distance," Powell told NPR.

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Powell, along with his Fed colleagues and scores of other economists, has insisted throughout the pandemic that the only way to fully recover from the recession it's caused is to control the virus. Until then, they've warned, the inability of Americans to safely gather in large groups and close quarters — especially to dine, drink, travel or be entertained — will keep millions of people unemployed and force thousands of small businesses into bankruptcy.

Powell and several other top Fed officials pressed that case throughout July as coronavirus cases spiked throughout the South and Sun Belt. While coronavirus cases dropped nationwide in the middle of August, they have since plateaued amid a troubling outbreak in the Midwest.

While Powell called the August jobs report released Friday “a good one,” he warned that the Fed will need to provide steady support for the economy through near-zero interest rates well beyond the end of the pandemic.

"We think that the economy's going to need low interest rates, which support economic activity, for an extended period of time," Powell told NPR. "It will be measured in years."