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Sturgis Bike Rally Responsible For 250,000 New Coronavirus Cases, According to New Report

Who could have possibly seen this coming?


Update: A week after publishing this story, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have questioned the findings and how the report came to the 250k numbers. While the researchers say the festival definitely led to a spike in cases, they push back on the 250k number. Read that report here.

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As we are now over a month out from the beginning of the highly controversial Sturgis Motorcyle Rally in Sturgis, North Dakota, we are seeing a much clearer picture on what kind of effect the event had on the ongoing global pandemic that is the coronavirus. The fest occurred between August 7 and 16 and attracted over 450,000 people to South Dakota. There were a slew of rock and metal bands like Buckcherry, Trapt, Fozzy, Drowning Pool, Quiet Riot, Smash Mouth, Adelitas Way, Saving Abel, and Night Ranger. It is now being deemed a "super spreader event."

While the initial fallout was relatively low, last week, the seven day average of new coronavirus cases in South Dakota more than tripled. Neighboring states also saw rises in cases. A new report was published today that states that the festival is now resposible for over 250,000 new cases.

Andrew Friedson, the Associate Professor of Economics at CU Denver writes "We estimate that over 250,000 of the reported cases between August 2 and September 2 are due to the Sturgis Rally. Roughly 19 percent of the national cases during this timeframe."

He linked to a report which estimated the public health cost of the rally was $12 billion dollars.

You can read the full report above or at this link, here is the intro to the piece which sums everything up:

Large in-person gatherings without social distancing and with individuals who have traveled outside the local area are classified as the “highest risk” for COVID-19 spread by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Between August 7 and August 16, 2020, nearly 500,000 motorcycle enthusiasts converged on Sturgis, South Dakota for its annual motorcycle rally. Large crowds, coupled with minimal mask-wearing and social distancing by attendees, raised concerns that this event could serve as a COVID-19 “super-spreader.” This study is the first to explore the impact of this event on social distancing and the spread of COVID-19. First, using anonymized cell phone data from SafeGraph, Inc. we document that (i) smartphone pings from non-residents, and (ii) foot traffic at restaurants and bars, retail establishments, entertainment venues, hotels and campgrounds each rose substantially in the census block groups hosting Sturgis rally events. Stay-at-home behavior among local residents, as measured by median hours spent at home, fell. Second, using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a synthetic control approach, we show that by September 2, a month following the onset of the Rally, COVID-19 cases increased by approximately 6 to 7 cases per 1,000 population in its home county of Meade. Finally, difference-in-differences (dose response) estimates show that following the Sturgis event, counties that contributed the highest inflows of rally attendees experienced a 7.0 to 12.5 percent increase in COVID-19 cases relative to counties that did not contribute inflows. Descriptive evidence suggests these effects may be muted in states with stricter mitigation policies (i.e., restrictions on bar/restaurant openings, mask-wearing mandates). We conclude that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally generated public health costs of approximately $12.2 billion.

The determinations were made using anonymous local smartphone data and case data from the CDC. They go into extreme detail here.

For folks looking to somehow link this to the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, Friedson points out that they did studies on those protests as well and found the protests themselves to be small relative to the local population, unlike with Sturgis.

I guess all that's left to say is who could have possibly seen this coming?

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