Reopening Wisconsin: Regional Health and Economic Factors

Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy, UW-Madison

Executive Summary:

  • Most states have imposed stay-at-home orders to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Now many are considering guidelines for reopening, which have been based solely on current health indicators. We consider both economic and health factors, accounting for differences across regions and industries.
  • We estimate that the COVID-19 pandemic in Wisconsin is costing roughly $1.7 billion per week in lost economic activity. We estimate a 30% decline in output and a 13 percentage point increase in unemployment statewide through April 18, 2020.
  • On average the counties which were in the worst economic condition prior to the pandemic have had the largest declines in economic activity.
  • We estimate that the statewide Safer at Home order accounts for only 20% of the output decline, with the balance due to other mostly voluntary distancing measures.
  • We also analyze health factors at a regional level. At least two of the state’s Health Emergency Readiness Coalition (HERC) regions still face high health risks.
  • At least three HERC regions have had very low rates of infections and positive tests for COVID-19, and may be close to satisfying the current health guidelines.
  • However at least some counties within these regions face higher risks from infection due to a larger vulnerable population and lower health system capacity.
  • We suggest that as policymakers consider reopening the economy, they move toward a phased-in regional relaxation of social distancing guidelines.

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