Post #629: A bit of homework in support of Post #628

Posted on April 13, 2020

Detail may not add to totals due to rounding.

The point of this calculation is to estimate how many masks it would take to upgrade the masks currently in use by public-facing employees of essential businesses in Virginia.  Best guess:  under 207,000, as shown above. Well under that if most employees own a mask that is better than what could be supplied under such a program.  And if Wal-Mart and Target can be persuaded to do it on their own (top line of table), you can knock 49,000 off that, for starters.

Detail follows.

A decent mask for every public-facing employee of essential businesses in Virginia.

Do not replace high-quality masks.  Obviously, an efficient policy would not replace all masks.  Instead, it would first target employees with no access to a mask, then those wearing the worst expedient masks (bandana), and so on.  The last thing you’d want to do is to take an employee currently owning and using an N95, and make them step down to some employer-provided mask of lower filtration ability.

A major unknown here is what fraction of employees would need to be provided with a mask, versus those who already own a reasonably good mask.  I’m just going to ignore that.

If you want to add a fudge factor for that, based on my recollection from my last trip to Giant, a proper (i.e., filtration-rated for hospital use) surgical mask would have been an upgrade for at least 80% of  the people I saw.  So, if you want, take my numbers and reduce them by 20% to account for the employees already using high-end manufactured masks.

Pro-rate national data.  I could probably find exact numbers for the Commonwealth via the five-year Economic Census, but that would take too much time.  And the accuracy is not worth it.

Instead, I’m going to leverage up an estimate using national numbers, pro-rating them by Virginia’s share of the US population.  Which I make out to be 8,535,000 / 330,000,000, or 2.6% of the US population.

Are all essential businesses retail?  Close, but not quite, if you look at Bureau of Labor Statistics data.  For whatever reason, car repair is in a separate section.  Otherwise, yes.  And open retail that is limited curbside pickup or delivery would not need masks.  So I need not consider (e.g.) restaurants, coffee shops, and so on.

Are all retail employees public-facing?  No.  Just a quick glance at grocery stores shows significant employment in corporate offices, upper-level managers, and behind-the-scenes production employees (e.g., butchers).  So an estimate based on all employees of retail establishments is an over-estimate.

Quick cut at grocery stores, to get an idea of magnitude.  I think the single largest source of essential business employees has to be grocery stores.  Turning to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics: .  When I do the math (below), in Virginia, there are about 70,000 total production workers, and 50,000 public-facing production workers in grocery stores (literally, food and beverage store employees).

Detail may not add to totals due to rounding.

At first blush, that does not seem like an infeasibly large number of second-tier masks.  This would be a one-time provision of masks, with instructions to re-use as hospital workers currently do with N95 masks.  (Let it sit overnight in an open paper bag.)  This could could be reduced further if you start by providing masks for only those employees with the worst expedient masks (e.g., bandanas).

Expand to all relevant retail.  Take total employment data for NAICS categories 44 and 45, less those that are not essential, then pro-rate the totals by the ratio of public-facing to total employees observed for food and beverage stores above.  So if I can get that one table, conveniently from BLS, I’ve got my estimate.And that table was available, with some work, from the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Here’s the final result, same as shown at the top of the post.

Detail may not add to totals due to rounding.