2020 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Estimated To Be Linked To Over 250,000 COVID-19 Cases (Updated)


Update: September, 17th, 2020 10:31 AM:

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University have pushed back on the findings presented in the original study. You can read their thoughts on it here.

Original Story:

The annual ‘Sturgis Motorcycle Rally’ held in Sturgis, SD this past August had previously been attributed to 100s of new cases of COVID-19. Since then at least one COVID-19-related death has been tied to an attendee of the annual rally, which saw an estimated 462,182 bikers from across the United States descend on the city of Sturgis for a ten-day celebration.

As you’re likely aware, that gathering also featured live performances from Smash Mouth, Trapt, Buckcherry, Drowning Pool and more. Ahead of the event, the Sturgis city council moved to put PPE and social distancing guidelines in place for local vendors, staff, etc., but not for attendees of the rally.

An update shared by the South Dakota Department Of Health today, September 08th, shows some 105 new positive cases being reported in the state today, while Meade County, where Sturgis is located, is among the highest cases to be reported in the state to date.

A report published by Reuters on September 06th states that the past two weeks have seen a 126% increase in COVID cases in South Dakota with over 3,700 new cases being confirmed in the past two weeks. Notably not all of those cases have been linked specifically to the rally.

While the impact of the event may not have been catastrophic locally as of yet, German, non-profit The IZA – Institute of Labor Economics have published this paper, detailing what they estimate to be the eventual impact of the event and its role in the spread of COVID-19 across the United States.

The spread data was in part compiled using anonymized cell phone data of attendees. It does not yet appear to have been corroborated by epidemiologists or health officials. Health economist Andrew Friedson, who co-authored the paper, commented:

The paper itself states of the event:

“The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally represents a situation where many of the “worst case scenarios” for superspreading occurred simultaneously: the event was prolonged, included individuals packed closely together, involved a large out-of-town population (a population that was orders of magnitude larger than the local population), and had low compliance with recommended infection countermeasures such as the use of masks. The only large factors working to prevent the spread of infection was the outdoor venue, and low population density in the state of South Dakota.”

It estimates that the public health cost to be totaling in the billions, offering:

“If we conservatively assume that all of these cases were non-fatal, then these cases represent a cost of over $12.2 billion, based on the statistical cost of a COVID-19 case of $46,000 estimated by Kniesner and Sullivan (2020). This is enough to have paid each of the estimated 462,182 rally attendees $26,553.64 not to attend.”

During his band’s performance at the festival, Smash Mouth frontman Steve Harwell was heard commenting during their set “Now we’re all here together tonight. And we’re being human once again. Fuck that COVID shit.” Trapt also performed at the festival, with their frontman Chris Taylor Brown told an angry fan over Twitter of his band’s set “…there will be zero outbreak from this show…”, later telling another Twitter user of reports of the initial COVID-19 spread from the event “I seriously don’t care at all… I care as much as what the flu does every year.

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