Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Linked To COVID-19 Outbreak Across Upper Midwest

More than 330 coronavirus cases are directly linked to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, but that doesn't begin to tell the whole story, according to experts.

Motorcyclists ride down Main Street during the 80th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Image via Getty/Michael Ciaglo

Motorcyclists ride down Main Street during the 80th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

The 80th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally will go down in infamy as a “superspreader event” that led to hundreds of thousands COVID-19 cases spanning several states and cost billions of dollars for public health care agencies. It was the nearly two-week event in August that drew half a million attendees, some of whom saw Smash Mouth frontman Steve Harwell tell a packed crowd, "We’re all here together tonight! Fuck that COVID shit."

And while the Sturgis rally is directly linked to 330 cases, experts believe it could be responsible for the Upper Midwest outbreak in the United States, according to a new report from the Washington Post. 

The rally took place in South Dakota where no restrictions on gatherings were being imposed. Even as health officials pleaded with possible attendees to skip this year’s event, many were defiant over the belief that their freedoms were being taken away. Many went anyway, gathering in enclosed indoor spaces, like bars, restaurants, and tattoo parlors, while refusing to wear a mask. 

More than 330 coronavirus cases, including one death, are officially tied to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally but they represent just the tip of the iceberg, experts say. That rally may have helped seed the Upper Midwest outbreak, via @BrittSham @bylenasun

— Anne Rumsey Gearan (@agearan) October 18, 2020

Even though the warning signs were present, and a survey concluded that 60 percent of residents wanted the rally to be postponed, there were companies in South Dakota that faced the possibility of losing their business if the event, which would account for a $2 million loss to the city, didn’t go on as planned. "There absolutely was no right decision,” city council member Terry Keszler said, who acknowledged crowds would've still shown up if a cancellation was announced. 

As cases related to the event began to crop up, contact tracing created further complications as some refused to be tested, leading to a tally that wasn't included in the total tied to Sturgis. Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious-disease epidemiology at the Minnesota Department of Health, believes "the web just gets too complicated" when it comes to tracking the various tentacles of the virus. 

"This motorcycle rally was and is such a big thing that people come from miles and miles away and they come from right next door. And it’s not reported anywhere who they are, where they live," said Benjamin Aaker, president of the South Dakota State Medical Association, adding, "Contact tracing on something like that is even harder than it is during normal circumstances."

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