With a crowd of about 100,000 fans packed in the Deer District, cheering on the Milwaukee Bucks last month, the game not only produced a long-awaited NBA championship, but also a much-dreaded surge in the number COVID-19 cases across the state.
Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said the contact tracing and testing for cases associated with Deer District gatherings are ongoing. She said the Milwaukee Health Department has been working closely with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and has identified almost 500 cases statewide, including Milwaukee, Dane, Ozaukee and Waukesha counties.
The state Department of Health Services reported that 491 people with confirmed or probable cases said they had attended the Deer District or Bucks game "during their exposure or infectious periods" but the department could not say definitively that they caught the virus while viewing the game downtown or elsewhere.
The department also said the figure was likely an undercount.
"We anticipated an increase in positive cases due to the delta variant but 155% increase in one week is distressing," Johnson said.
She urged people to get tested if they have attended any large gatherings.
"I think it is important to recognize that any time there is a large gathering of people, we are going to see the virus spread," Johnson said during a Tuesday COVID-19 briefing.
Health officials said the city has entered into the "extreme transmission" category, and the number of cases has reached 193.2 per 100,000 as of Tuesday.
Officials also raised concerns about statewide hospitalization rates.
"We have four times as many people hospitalized with COVID in Wisconsin as we did one month ago, from 74 individuals to 310 today," said Dr. Ben Weston, director of medical services at the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management, during the briefing.
Additional action could come from the city, according to Johnson, who said she was working with the city’s Department of Employee Relations on a measure mandating vaccines for city employees, a step taken by Los Angeles, the state of California and New York City.
“We are currently working through what that may look like,” Johnson said.
She did not have a timeframe for implementing such a policy.
Milwaukee Ald. Robert Bauman this week proposed legislation that would require city employees to prove they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or test negative for the virus weekly as a condition of coming to work.
Six other council members previously put forward legislation that would require masks inside if the transmission level in the city reaches 100 or more cases per 100,000 people
The Health Department has issued an advisory that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks inside when with people outside their households.
Johnson on Tuesday did not rule out a return at some point to capacity limits for bars, restaurants and other venues but said there are no plans at this time to bring the limits back.
The council is on its August recess but there are rumblings about a potential special session this month to take up COVID-related legislation.
Johnson also said that she had been in conversation with multiple entertainment venues about potentially requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to attend events.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday that the city would require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for people to come into indoor restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues starting Aug. 16.