As Minnesota expands re-opening, should people worry?
As of June 10th, phase three of the Minnesota reopening plan has begun. Minnesotans can do a lot of more things now than was allowed before. They can, among other things, eat in restaurants and drink in a bar, attend places of worship in a much bigger crowd than was allowed before, and patronize indoor entertainment places like bowling alleys, theatres as well as fitness centers.
Of course, some worries have surfaced that reopening would lead to a surge in the number of cases. States like Florida, for instance, have seen a spike in positive coronavirus cases.
But should Minnesotans worry about reopening? Not necessarily. The increase in positive tests in Florida is mostly due to an increase in testing. But additionally, there are two states that demonstrate why reopening should not be feared: Georgia, and Wisconsin.
Georgia was the first state to reopen in the country. So far, reopening has not worsened the Covid-19 experience in the state.
So far, the state has not experienced a sustained surge in COVID-19 cases that critics warned would happen when the shelter-in-place order expired on April 30, even as nail salons, hairdressers, bowling alleys, gyms, restaurants and clothing stores reopened, so long as they followed proper safety guidelines.
On the flip side, the state has seen a jump in economic activity.
Early evidence suggests the rollback of restrictions led to a significant jump in economic activity: According to a new analysis published by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, activity in Georgia is down just 24 percent from the year-ago period, compared to a 55 percent decline in mid-April.
Wisconsin is one of the states that also opened earlier than Minnesota. In fact, Minnesota has lost some revenue to businesses on the border area of Wisconsin. People had been trickling to nearby Wisconsin cities to access services that they could not access in Minnesota.
Wisconsin like Georgia also saw an increase in economic activity but not at the same levels as that of Georgia.
There was indeed a large relative increase in activity on the initial weekend following the order, with foot traffic at bars up 60% and restaurants up 30% from the previous weekend. These increases continued over the following week leading into Memorial Day weekend, with foot traffic on May 22 up 75% in bars and 64% in full service restaurants over May 8. However this was an increase from a very low level. Figure 4 shows that although these sectors have seen sharp recovery in recent weeks, activity still remained at least 40% below levels of a year earlier. Nonetheless, this is strong growth considering activity had been down 70-75% throughout April.
Wisconsin saw a slight uptick in the number of confirmed positive cases two weeks after reopening, but those numbers are slowing down now. As of Monday, Wisconsin reported 203 new cases and no new deaths since May 17.
It is highly unlikely for the country or any state to get back to where they were before the end of the year. The recovery will take a little while and will depend on how things proceed after reopening. But these states are proof that reopening is not a death sentence.
A lot of states have opened and have not suffered worse COVID-19 outcomes as a result. Even the surge that was seen two weeks after reopening in some states has been temporary. Minnesotans should be more hopeful about the next coming weeks as things start going back to normal.
But in the case that we see cases rise, our health sector has built up enough capacity to handle an expected surge in positive cases. Moreover, we know enough now about the virus to target protection policies at those considered to be at a higher risk of infection or death without putting the whole economy to a complete stop.