State Watch

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was 'superspreading event' that cost public health $12.2 billion: analysis

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota last month was a coronavirus "superspreading event" that led to an estimated $12.2 billion in public health costs, according to a new study by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics.

The analysis tracked anonymized cellphone data from the 10-day event that showed "smartphone pings from non-residents" and "foot traffic at restaurants and bars, retail establishments, entertainment venues, hotels and campgrounds each rose substantially." Stay-at-home hours for local residents fell during the same time period.

Based on the increase in case count, the researchers group, estimated that cases connected to the gathering resulted in $12 billion in public health costs, not including the costs associated with any deaths that might be tied to cases from the event. That dollar amount is based on another estimation that an average of $46,000 is spent on each patient who tests positive for COVID-19.

Researchers concluded that more than 266,000 cases were tied to the event attended by more than 460,000 individuals.

Health officials have linked at least one death to the rally: a male biker in his 60s with underlying conditions. At least 260 cases in 11 states have been officially connected to the rally by government officials.

The annual event ran from Aug. 7-16 and drew more than 365,00 vehicles, according to South Dakota's Department of Transportation.

Most people who attended the event did not take coronavirus precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, The Associated Press reported at the time.

"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 researchers wrote.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R), a staunch supporter of President Trump who was supportive of the Sturgis rally, disputed the analysis's findings, calling it "fiction."

"This report isn't science; it's fiction," Noem said in a statement. "Under the guise of academic research, this report is nothing short of an attack on those who exercised their personal freedom to attend Sturgis."

Updated at 4:08 p.m.

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