Jeramey Jannene

Milwaukee Metro Area Ranks 6th Nationally for COVID-19 Case Rate

Four-county area has more cases per 100,000 residents than Chicago and San Francisco.

By - Mar 26th, 2020 11:43 am
COVID-19 Case Rate by Metro Area as of March 22nd. Image from City Observatory.

COVID-19 Case Rate by Metro Area as of March 22nd. Image from City Observatory.

The Milwaukee metropolitan area has the sixth-highest rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country with 15.2 cases per 100,000 residents.

That’s ahead of cities with high-profile outbreaks like Chicago (10.8) and San Francisco (9.1). Leaders in both of those regions have been more aggressive in limiting public movement and enforcing social distancing. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot closed Lake Michigan beaches and trails this week and six Bay Area counties around San Francisco issued “shelter in place” orders a week ago. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele have repeatedly said they hope people voluntarily comply with state orders to social distance and stay home.

The Milwaukee metropolitan area includes suburban communities like Waukesha, West Bend and Mequon as well as Milwaukee. The U.S. Census Bureau-defined metropolitan statistical area is made up of Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties.

Milwaukee trails only New York City (82.5), New Orleans (54.8), Seattle (41.3) and Detroit (21)  and San Jose (15.4) in confirmed case rate as of March 22nd.

The analysis comes from Joe Cortright of think tank City Observatory. “Up until now, most data has been available at only the state or county level.  States are too large to accurately capture the incidence of the pandemic; and counties are often too variable and too small,” wrote Cortright. “Metro areas capture labor markets and commuting sheds, and are defined consistently, making them more appropriate geographic units for judging the spread of the virus.”

Do you live somewhere else? Don’t be lulled into a sense of security. “The typical metro is only about 1-2 weeks behind these cities in the progression of the virus,” warns Cortright.

As with all COVID-19 case data, it’s a rapidly changing dataset. Not only are the number of cases accelerating nationally, but testing capacity varies by region.

The City Observatory report includes an interactive map and chart to explore the outbreak. The lowest rates in any metro areas have been reported in San Antonio, Houston, Riverside and St. Louis. Each had fewer than 1.5 cases per 100,000 residents.

State data current as of March 24th at 9 p.m. shows that Milwaukee County has 290 cases, Waukesha has 42, Ozaukee has 20 and Washington has 21. That would boost the metro area’s case total to 23.9 cases per 100,000 residents (based on 2020 census data), putting the area ahead of where Detroit was on the 22nd.

Milwaukee County was reporting 343 cases as of 6 a.m. on March 26th, including 267 in the City of Milwaukee.

Six deaths have been reported in the Milwaukee-West Allis-Waukesha metro area, including five in Milwaukee County.

Public health officials are strongly encouraging everyone that can to stay home whenever possible and stay at least six feet away from non-household members when they go outside, but they are cautioning that it could be weeks before these practices show results.


All state case data are laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported as of 9 p.m. the previous evening.

Charts and Maps

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