A new study argues the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota was a “superspreading event” that may be linked to almost 20 percent of new coronavirus cases across the country last month.
Both South Dakota health officials and Gov. Kristi Noem dismissed the report from researchers at San Diego State University’s Center for Health Economics & Policy Studies and the IZA Institute of Labor Economics.
The paper tracked cellphone data at the gathering attended by more than 460,000 mostly-maskless motorcycle enthusiasts amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
At one point, 90s pop-rock band Smash Mouth played a concert to thousands of attendees, with the frontman saying, “F–k that COVID shit!”
The researchers argue that the event not only led to rising infections in the surrounding region, but also in the places across the nation attendees returned to after the event.
South Dakota experienced a 35 percent jump in cases, while counties in other states home to a significant number of attendees saw increases of 10.7 percent following the event.
“The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally represents a situation where many of the ‘worst-case scenarios’ for superspreading occurred simultaneously,” researchers concluded in the paper.
“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 estimate the event was linked to 266,796 — or 19 percent — of 1.4 million new cases recorded in the US between Aug. 2 2020 and Sept. 2.
At least one attendee, a 60-year-old Minnesota man, succumbed to the virus.
The researchers estimated that the rally resulted in $12.2 billion in health care costs — estimating an average of $46,000 in bills for every patient — a figure that doesn’t factor in costs associated with death.
The calculation provides a “ballpark estimate” of the economic impact of a superspreading event, as well as how “valuable restrictions on mass gatherings can be,” researchers wrote.
“This is enough to have paid each of the estimated 462,182 rally attendees $26,553.64 not to attend,” the researchers wrote.
But state health officials noted that the paper was not peer-reviewed, and that it didn’t seem to account for schools reopening after the rally ended, which could have also contributed to the uptick in cases, local outlet KOTA-TV reported.
“From what we know the results do not align with what we know,” state epidemiologist Joshua Clayton said during a media briefing Tuesday.
Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said people “shouldn’t put too much stock into models” and that using cell phone pings to project COVID-19 cases isn’t an accurate correlation.
She mentioned that the state had linked 124 cases among South Dakota residents to the rally.
The governor, Noem, also waved off the study as “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.”
She noted the paper was a “non peer-reviewed model,” charging that it was also “built on incredibly faulty assumptions that do not reflect the actual facts and data here in South Dakota.”