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Health Officials Warn Bucks Celebrations Could Lead To Increase In COVID-19 Cases

Less Than 50 Percent Of Milwaukee County Is Vaccinated

A sign says "COVID-19 Vaccine Entrance" as fans walk by holding drinks.
Fans walk past a sign advertising COVID-19 vaccines Tuesday, July 20, 2021, outside the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

On the night the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA Championship, the city’s health department was in the Deer District offering fans free COVID-19 vaccinations.

Health officials gave out 19 shots that night.

Like the rest of the state, Milwaukee County is about 50 percent vaccinated. This week, state Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk warned there could be a spike in COVID-19 cases due to the large gatherings of people in downtown Milwaukee during Tuesday’s game and Thursday’s championship parade.

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“We know people wanted to be jubilant and celebrate,” Van Dijk said during a call with media Thursday after the parade. “But we know, as I said, half the state is fully vaccinated and so half the state is not, and I assume the same applies to the people in the Deer District or in the arena. And I didn’t see half of the participants wearing a mask.”

Fans cheer in a crowd in the Deer District.
Fans cheer as the Bucks play in the NBA Finals on Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

It has been difficult to correlate a spike in COVID-19 cases with an individual event, although having 65,000 people concentrated in one space hasn’t been a common sight during the pandemic, said Dr. Ben Weston, medical director of the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.

Weston said being outside makes the likelihood of spread relatively low — for people who are fully vaccinated. But because the disease is spread through close contact, the risk level was high for unvaccinated individuals.

“Of course we know, based on our vaccine levels, a large portion of the people who attended the parade and Game 6 were unvaccinated,” Weston said. “The best way to think about this is layers of protection. If you have the layer of the vaccine, and you were outdoors and some people were even wearing a mask, I think you have three of those layers, and you are quite well protected.”

In Milwaukee, the COVID-19 rate this week increased to 50.7 cases per 100,000 people, a number the city hasn’t seen since early June, said Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson.

“What we’re seeing right now with the increase in COVID-19 cases is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Johnson said. “The delta variant is more transmissible than previous strains of this virus, and we anticipated the prevalence of this variant in our city would create a rise in cases. This is the time for those who are unvaccinated to prioritize getting their COVID-19 vaccine to protect themselves and their loved ones.”

During pre-playoff game vaccination clinics in June, the Milwaukee Health Department was able to vaccinate 53 people.

“The Bucks celebrations this past week were incredible shows of pride and excitement for our city, but we know that large gatherings such as those happening in the Deer District can create an influx in positive COVID-19 cases,” Johnson said.

To find the vaccine and schedule an appointment, visit https://vaccinate.wi.gov/en-US or call 844-684-1064.