Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Is Now Linked to More Than 250,000 Coronavirus Cases

One study estimates the public health cost of the super-spreading event is near $12 billion.

Grace Pritchett/AP

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The inevitable fallout from last month’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, an annual event that packed nearly 500,000 people into a small town in South Dakota, is becoming clear, and the emerging picture is grim. 

According to a new study, which tracked anonymized cellphone data from the rally, over 250,000 coronavirus cases have now been tied to the 10-day event, one of the largest to be held since the start of the pandemic. It drew motorcycle enthusiasts from around the country, many of whom were seen without face coverings inside crowded bars, restaurants, and other indoor establishments. 

The explosion in cases, the study from the Germany-based IZA Institute of Labor Economics finds, is expected to reach $12 billion in public health costs.

“The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally represents a situation where many of the ‘worst-case scenarios’ for super-spreading occurred simultaneously,” the researchers wrote, “the event was prolonged, included individuals packed closely together, involved a large out-of-town population, and had low compliance with recommended infection countermeasures such as the use of masks.” 

The conclusion, while staggering, is unlikely to surprise public health officials who warned that proceeding with the rally could be disastrous, particularly given the region’s relaxed attitude towards social distancing guidelines and some of the attendees’ mockery of the pandemic. “Screw COVID. I went to Sturgis,” read one t-shirt from the rally, where overwhelming support for President Trump was the norm. 

The study comes on the heels of the first reported death from the event, a Minnesota man in his 60’s who attended the rally who died last week. South Dakota now has one of the country’s highest rates of coronavirus cases. 

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In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

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