More than 100 attendees of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota earlier this month have tested positive for COVID-19 after they returned home to their respective states.
The tally ― almost certainly an undercount ― includes 37 people in South Dakota, 27 in Minnesota, 17 in North Dakota, seven in Nebraska, seven in Wyoming, five in Montana, two in Wisconsin and one in Washington state, and it’s likely to grow in the coming days.
Fargo-based health correspondent Jeremy Fugleberg has been tracking the cases as they begin to crop up and shared his sources on Twitter Tuesday:
Benjamin Aaker, president of the South Dakota State Medical Association, said it’s almost impossible to track the true impact of the rally in spreading the virus.
Many more unidentified positive cases likely exist for every confirmed positive, he told The Washington Post. Those unidentified positive individuals will likely proceed to infect others in their communities, but it’ll be impossible to trace the resulting community spread back to its ultimate source in Sturgis.
According to an analysis of anonymous cell phone activity shared with The Associated Press by Camber Systems, which specializes in aggregating cell data for health researchers, 61% of all the counties in the U.S. have been visited by someone who attended Sturgis.
“Imagine trying to do contact tracing for the entire city of [Washington], D.C. but you also know that you don’t have any distancing, or the distancing is very, very limited, the masking is limited,” Navin Pembar, who co-founded Camber Systems, told AP. “It all adds up to a very dangerous situation for people all over the place. Contact tracing becomes dramatically difficult.”
In a media briefing last week, Minnesota Department of Health Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann said one of the Sturgis attendees who fell ill has been hospitalized. All of the cases had been linked to campgrounds, bars and events in Sturgis, including one person who worked at a bar during the event.
“We know that there were many more people from Minnesota who attended the event, and expect to see additional cases in the coming days,” she said. “If you did go to Sturgis, it’s best to self-quarantine for 14 days upon return.”
This year, 462,182 vehicles entered the city over the 10 days of the rally, according to a count by the South Dakota Department of Transportation. While that’s a 7.5% decrease from last year, it’s still plenty large enough to cause a nationwide spreading event.
A survey distributed by the Sturgis City Council before the event found 63% of city residents wanted the rally postponed this year.
Sturgis leadership quickly realized that would be nearly impossible.
“As a city, there’s nothing we could do, we’re not able to put up roadblocks and say, ‘You can’t come in,’” city manager Daniel Ainslie told CNN. “And it was quite obvious that we were going to have a lot of people here, even if we didn’t call it the rally. The issue is if we did not officially sanction it as a rally, then we would not be able to prepare for it.”
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