A new study has claimed that last month’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota contributed to over 260,000 new cases of coronavirus in the US.
The 10-day festival, which reportedly drew crowds of up to 460,000 to Sturgis between August 7-16, included a full programme of music that featured sets from the likes of Trapt, Buckcherry, Drowning Pool, Night Ranger, Reverend Horton Heat, Lit, 38 Special, Quiet Riot, Big Skillet and Smash Mouth.
Smash Mouth’s performance at the rally in particular was widely criticised for not adhering to social distancing or mask-wearing guidelines, as well as frontman Steve Harwell’s “we’re all here together tonight! Fuck that COVID shit!” remark to the crowd.
Researchers from the Center for Health Economics and Policy Studies at San Diego State University have now published a study which investigated whether the 2020 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was an example of a “superspreader” event.
The academics concluded that the Sturgis Rally added an estimated 263,708 cases of coronavirus — which equates to 19% of the total number of US cases between August 2 and September 2 — to the US total number of cases.
“The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally represents a situation where many of the ‘worst case scenarios’ for superspreading occurred simultaneously,” the paper states. “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.”
Explaining their methodology, the paper stated: “First, using anonymised 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 behaviour 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.
New @SDSUCHEPS paper by Dhaval Dave @FriedsonAndrew @Drew_McNichols & Joe Sabia ("Contagion Externality of Super-spreader") finds Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was a local & nationwide spreader of COVID-19. Estimated public health cost: ~$12B
— CHEPS (@SDSUCHEPS) September 6, 2020
“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.”
In response to the study, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem criticised the research as “nothing short of an attack on those who exercised their personal freedom to attend Sturgis”.
“Predictably, some in the media breathlessly report on this non-peer reviewed model, built on incredibly faulty assumptions that do not reflect the actual facts and data here in South Dakota,” Noem added.
Last week, the first coronavirus-related death linked to the Sturgis Rally was reported.