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Milwaukee Bucks fans celebrated the NBA championship outside. 500 still got covid, officials say.

Fans arrive before the NBA basketball finals game on July 20 in Milwaukee. (Jeffrey Phelps/AP)

When the Milwaukee Bucks secured their first NBA championship win in 50 years two weeks ago, a sea of 100,000 fans roared outside the stadium in the city’s Deer District. Those in the largely unmasked crowd jumped as they held up their phones, snapping pictures and recording the victory.

Now, the Milwaukee health commissioner says the event may be the common factor in a surge of covid-19 cases. As of Tuesday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services had identified almost 500 attendees who later contracted covid.

“We encourage anyone who has attended a large gathering, such as the watch party in the Deer District, get tested for covid-19 due to the increased risk of transmission,” Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said during a briefing Tuesday.

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Milwaukee Bucks fans celebrated in downtown Milwaukee on July 20 after their team's 105-98 win over the Phoenix Suns for the team’s first NBA title since 1971. (Video: John Farrell/The Washington Post)

The news, first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, is the latest report of a possible outdoor superspreader event as the highly contagious delta variant spreads rapidly throughout the country. An outbreak in Provincetown, Mass., which probably began during packed events over the July Fourth holiday weekend, resulted in almost 900 cases as of Friday, The Washington Post reported.

Public health experts have also expressed concern about Lollapalooza, the outdoor music festival in Chicago that took place last weekend. Despite being outside, the packed crowds of 100,000 concertgoers per day could lead to a surge amid the contagious delta variant and growing rate of breakthrough cases among the vaccinated.

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Many states, including Wisconsin, are seeing a stark uptick in coronavirus cases. In the past week, daily reported cases rose more than 85 percent, with hospitalizations up by about 84 percent, according to The Post’s covid tracker.

With 56 percent having received at least one vaccine dose in Wisconsin, the number of daily administered doses has slowed. In the past week, the average inoculations per day dropped 12 percent, according to The Post’s vaccine tracker.

To date, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has identified 491 cases statewide in which the person infected attended the championship event in the Deer District, the health commissioner said Tuesday. The results have led the state to boost contact tracing; Johnson noted that the number of cases is probably far higher than recorded.

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“We anticipated an increase in positive cases due to the delta variant, but [a] 155 percent increase in one week is distressing,” Johnson said.

As the Milwaukee Bucks made their way closer to the championship during the season, some Wisconsin health experts and community leaders had warned that large watch parties and celebrations could lead covid cases to surge.

“In terms of the Bucks event, there are a lot of people there and sometimes with celebratory events, sometimes we let our guard down,” Ruben Anthony, the president and chief executive of the Urban League of Greater Madison, told WKOW last month.

Representatives for the Milwaukee Bucks did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment late Wednesday.

Johnson noted that the uptick in cases across the state is not solely connected to the packed July 20 event outside the stadium but could still be traced back to Bucks watch parties.

“People weren’t just attending events in the Deer District,” Johnson said. “They were also going to bars and parties at friends’ houses and family events.”

“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,” she added.

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