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Health experts worry unvaccinated Bucks parade attendees at risk

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Following a week that saw Wisconsin's two largest mass public gatherings since the COVID-19 pandemic started, health officials and doctors said Friday they would expect to see new cases traced to the Milwaukee Bucks' NBA championship celebrations.

Milwaukee Police estimated about 100,000 people jammed into and around the downtown Deer District Tuesday night when the team won its first NBA Finals title in 50 years. Even more people came out Thursday for the Bucks' parade and championship rally.

"The fact that people were really boisterous and yelling loud, which is a great way to spread infection, the presence of the Delta variant in our state," said Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Julie Willems Van Dijk. "I anticipate we'll see additional cases as a result of those gatherings."

Van Dijk said if the crowd's vaccination rate resembles the state's - about 50 percent - she would be troubled to see far less than half the crowd wearing masks.

Dr. Nasia Safdar, Medical Director of Infection Control at UW Health, said she also anticipated the celebrations would spread the virus, even if most of the crowd was vaccinated.

"It won't be that there will be zero cases because, of course, even though the vaccines are wonderful, they're not 100 percent and you might expect some breakthrough cases to occur," she said.

Safdar assed she was not too concerned about vaccinated members of the crowd becoming seriously ill should they contract the virus because the vast majority of people now needed hospitalization for COVID-19 have not gotten the vaccine.

"For people that are unvaccinated, it's entirely possible that just given the sheer volume of people that were there, they may have encountered someone who might've been incubated or had COVID all without knowing it," Safdar said. "So I think the risk is higher for those who are unvaccinated."

Along those lines, Safdar said she was downright confused to see the vaccination rate still hovering around 50 percent. Van Dijk said between the volume of vaccine doses available and providers who have available supply, the state could hit its targeted vaccination rate of 70 percent "within the next couple of days" if not for vaccine hesitancy.

"I could have perhaps understood it a little better earlier on in the pandemic when the vaccines first became available because I think people had questions about 'well it's just come out, how do I know it's safe?' and so on," Safdar said. "But not now millions and millions of people have become vaccinated and we're seeing such excellent outcomes."

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A. J. Bayatpour

Capitol Bureau Chief

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