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What’s got you scratching your head about Milwaukee and the region? Bubbler Talk is a series that puts your curiosity front and center.

Inflatable reindeer provide comfort and humor at Milwaukee COVID testing and vaccination sites

This is Bubbler Talk-questioner, Connor Bowman, standing below a giant inflatable deer placed at the Southside Health Center COVID testing and vaccination site.
Marti Mikkelson
/
WUWM
Bubbler Talk-questioner Connor Bowman stands below a giant inflatable deer placed at the Southside Health Center COVID testing and vaccination site.

For this week’s Bubbler Talk, our listener Connor Bowman asked WUWM — “What’s the story with the reindeer I’ve been seeing at COVID testing and vaccination sites around Milwaukee?”

Bowman is talking about giant inflatable reindeer that have been placed at various locations run by the Milwaukee Health Department. You can see them while waiting in line to be tested or vaccinated.

Bowman said he first saw the reindeer last December at the drive-up testing site near American Family Field, then known as Miller Park. The reindeer were present again a few months later when he was vaccinated at the convention center in downtown Milwaukee. Bowman said the reindeer had a soothing effect.

“When I saw them around the holidays, there was a lot of comfort," Bowman said. "And when I saw them around February or March, I was comforted, but then I was like ‘What? Why are they here again?’ Like I just thought it was a funny and chaotic kind of appearance that they were back at the Wisconsin Center."

Nick Tomaro of the Milwaukee Health Department, poses in front of a deer at the testing and vaccination site at the former Miller Park last December.
Nick Tomaro
Nick Tomaro of the Milwaukee Health Department, poses in front of a deer at the testing and vaccination site at the former Miller Park last December.

The idea behind the reindeer is to provide solace and inject a bit of humor into a stressful situation, according to Nick Tomaro of the Milwaukee Health Department. I met him at the Southside Health Center testing and vaccination site, where a giant reindeer sits on a tall platform near the ceiling.

Tomaro said the concept came to him late last year, when he was shopping at Home Depot for supplies to stock the drive-up testing site at the former Miller Park. He said he spotted the reindeer in the holiday section of the store — for those who like to display giant decorations on their lawns. Tomaro thought the reindeer would help lighten the mood, as the city was facing a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations at the time.

“I would just see the general public coming through the testing site in big numbers," said Tomaro. "[Thinking about morale] as I was walking through Home Depot — and one of these reindeer was blown up — and it was on sale, so I thought ‘Well, we’re going to get some reindeer for Miller Park.'"

Tomaro said he purchased two of the reindeer and displayed them at Miller Park for the duration of the holiday season. The health department then started rotating them at different sites, from the stadium to the central vaccination site set up at the Wisconsin Center earlier this year.

Chelsea Watry, formerly of the Milwaukee Health Department, stands in front of a deer this past summer in the deer district.
Nick Tomaro
Chelsea Watry, formerly of the Milwaukee Health Department, stands in front of a deer this past summer in the deer district.

Tomaro said even though reindeer are typically associated with the December holidays, the City placed one of the inflatable reindeer at the Deer District vaccination site this past summer during the Milwaukee Bucks’ playoff season. He said the reindeer served as a quirky public relations tool, both for the Bucks and for vaccines.

“What I loved is the announcer at the Deer District — for when we [Milwaukee Health Department] were out there for the vaccine — was using the deer as a landmark. They said, ‘Go to the inflatable deer to get your vaccine,’” Tomaro said.

Currently, the reindeer are making the rounds at several sites in Milwaukee, including the Southside Health Center and the Northwest Health Center, plus a new location in the Menomonee Valley.

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Tomaro said you might see the reindeer at some other venues in the near future as well. He said the City is currently working with Milwaukee Public Schools to set up vaccination clinics for kids — and will possibly place reindeer at those locations.

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