Billionaire mall owner: Mandating masks can save lives and prevent another coronavirus shutdown

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Billionaire mall owner Rick Caruso told CNBC on Thursday that face mask requirements across the U.S. are needed to prevent a spike in coronavirus cases and future severe crackdowns on businesses. 

“And if you don’t wear a mask, and you don’t enforce it as a business, I think then it’s a health code violation and they should either be cited and then eventually closed down,” Caruso said on “Squawk on the Street.”  “This is important stuff. It’s life and death, and we should take it very seriously.” 

Caruso, whose eponymous real-estate firm owns outdoor malls The Grove in Los Angeles and The Americana at Brand in Glendale, California, spoke hours before California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a statewide requirement for face masks in public or other high-risk settings

Some states including California, Texas and Arizona are experiencing a rise in Covid-19 cases, fueling questions about how to respond to outbreaks after restrictions on businesses meant to limit virus transmission have been eased. 

In addition to trying to maintain physical distance, public health experts now say wearing a face mask in public can significantly help in limiting the spread of Covid-19. However, there is a partisan divide about masks, with Democrats being more likely than Republicans to say they wear one, according to a CNBC poll last month. 

White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said on CNBC earlier in June he has “no doubt” that people who do not wear masks, particularly in large crowds, are increasing the risk of spreading the coronavirus. 

“When we see that not happening, there is a concern that that may actually propagate the further spread of infection,” Fauci said. 

Caruso said his company has adopted a strict commitment to public health measures at its properties. “We have ambassadors that go around, and we have little kits. We have hand sanitizers, we give you a mask if you don’t have one.  We remind you to put a mask on. The store needs to do the same thing, which our stores are,” he said. 

Caruso said this approach is necessary to ensure the Covid-19 crisis does not escalate further and bring about even more significant economic consequences. He also said consumers will reward companies that prioritize public health.  

“It’s just part of what we have to do in order to survive this and get through this and keep businesses open, because a second closure is just going to be a dramatic negative impact to this economy,” Caruso said. “I just don’t see how many businesses could sustain that.”  

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