A new paper published by a group of health economists and academics estimates that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally held in South Dakota in August is linked to more than 250,000 reported cases of COVID-19 in the U.S.— “roughly 19 percent of the national cases during this timeframe,” according to one of the authors.
The economists also estimated that the rally “generated substantial public health costs” of at least $12.2 billion. They used the statistical value of a COVID-19 case as estimated by other researchers to determine that number, which is conservative and assumes that all of the confirmed related cases were non-fatal.
“This is enough to have paid each of the estimated 462,182 rally attendees $26,553.64 not to attend,” the authors wrote.
The economists used anonymized smartphone data to plot out foot traffic in and around Sturgis, and cited CDC data to show that the rally “caused spread of COVID-19 cases both locally and in the home counties of those who traveled” to the event and then returned home. States including Arizona, California, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, Washington and Wyoming “saw a 10.7 percent increase in COVID-19 cases more than three weeks following the opening of the Sturgis Rally, and about two weeks following the close of events,” according to the paper.
The 80th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was a 10-day event in Sturgis, a small city with a population of approximately 7,000 people. More than 460,000 people flooded into the area for the event, which featured dozens of live music concerts, races and bike shows. Republican Gov. Kristi Noem welcomed attendees, despite public health experts’ concerns at the time.
The new paper suggests those concerns were founded, emphasizing the lack of government-ordered mitigation policies such as mandatory mask-wearing and enforcement of social distancing. The paper also highlighted that many attendees spent time indoors in local bars and restaurants, as opposed to outdoors.