Report finds regional health, economic factors are key to reopening Wisconsin economy

April 28, 2020

Most states have imposed stay-at-home orders to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Now many are considering guidelines for reopening that have been based solely on current health indicators. A report released today, “Reopening Wisconsin: Regional Health and Economic Factors,” by the Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy (CROWE) at UW–Madison considers both economic and health factors, accounting for differences across regions and industries.

“Policymakers will need to balance the health risks of relaxing social distancing guidelines with the economic costs of maintaining the restrictions,” said Noah Williams, Professor of Economics and Director of CROWE. “We provide metrics to help inform decisions on those tradeoffs. As both the health and economic factors vary substantially across regions, it makes sense to move toward a phased-in regional relaxation of distancing guidelines.”

Learn more: At 5 p.m. April 29, Prof. Williams will present an online discussion of the economic impact of COVID-19

The report estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic in Wisconsin is costing roughly $1.7 billion per week in lost economic activity, with a 30 percent decline in output and a 13 percentage point increase in unemployment through April 18. Moreover, counties which were in worse economic condition prior to the pandemic have typically faced the largest losses. The report estimates that the state Safer at Home order accounts for 20 percent of the output decline, with the balance due to other mostly voluntary distancing measures.

The report also analyzes health factors at a regional level. At least two of the state’s seven Health Emergency Readiness Coalition (HERC) regions still face high health risks, but at least three HERC regions have had very low rates of infections and positive tests for COVID-19. These regions 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.