Become a Member: Get Ad-Free Access to 3,000+ Reviews, Guides, & More

A Study Links the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally to 250,000 COVID Cases, SD Officials Dispute This

Image from Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Facebook Page

How Bad Are the Numbers?

The scientific community warned us that large gatherings—like the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally—could be super spreader events of the COVID-19 virus. According to a new study by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, more than 250,000 cases of COVID-19 can be connected to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

That not only puts thousands of people at the mercy of the virus, but it also has a dramatic impact on public health costs. “We concluded that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally generated public health costs of approximately $12.2 billion,” the report stated.

This was not the intended outcome for the rally. Event organizers knew there was a risk and did take measures to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, including free testing areas. However, it’s clear that few people at the rally were following social distancing rules and wearing masks. 

The University of Colorado Denver, Bentley University, University of California San Diego, and San Diego State University used anonymized cellphone data from the rally to track the foot traffic at restaurants, bars, hotels, and shops, according to Market Watch. This data revealed that foot traffic increased by 90 percent during the event. At the same time, stay-at-home behavior decreased by residents of the area by about 11 percent.

This should come as no surprise. Of course, foot traffic is going to go up during a big event. Also, it makes perfect sense that residents in the area would go out, many of them likely have jobs or activities connected to the rally. What’s more important is data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found attendees of the rally spread cases both locally and in their home counties.

This means that all the folks who visited the rally likely spread it while going home and once home. Again, this should come as no surprise. The researchers said there are a total of 263,708 cases that can be tied to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. It’s worth noting that tracking this kind of data is not easy, so there’s always the chance that it could be inaccurate.

How Accurate are the Numbers?

It’s worth noting that while hundreds of thousands of cases have been attributed to the rally thanks to this study, at this time, few deaths have been connected to the rally. The large number of cases connected in the study also doesn’t align with other numbers reported.

According to USA Today, the South Dakota Department of Health reported only 124 cases among South Dakota residents that attended the rally. The Associated Press identified only 290 cases from 12 states tied to the rally.

Also, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has criticized the study. “Under the guise of academic research, this report is nothing short of an attack on those who exercised their personal freedom to attend Sturgis,” Noem said in the statement. She pointed to the fact that it was not peer-reviewed 

This is a notable criticism, we should never take one study as gospel without it being fully vetted by others in the scientific community. Andrew Friedson, one of four authors of the study, even expressed the difficulty of accurately tracking the true numbers of the study to USA Today.

“We’re never going to be able to contact trace every single person from Sturgis,” Friedson said. “So if we want a good-faith estimate using, at the moment, the accepted statistical techniques.” However, he did say that he believes this is the “best number” we’re going to get.

South Dakota Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon disagrees with the methodology of the study. She disputed the idea that cellphone data and cases can be connected accurately. She also said that the estimated $12.2 billion in health care costs is questionable.

That number was developed using an average cost of $46,000 per case. This works for the model of making an estimation, but in reality, the cost could be far different than that, especially because healthcare workers are getting better at treating COVID-19 patients. While some treatments for patients could be more than the average cost, plenty of others could require no treatment at all or only some treatment.

The simple fact of the matter is that we will likely never know how many cases can be attributed to the 2020 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Because it’s so hard to contract trace a large event like this, it’s impossible to get a true number. The models like the one used in this study can give us an idea, but they will never be 100 percent accurate.

  1. What a farce and an obvious attack on freedom loving bikers everywhere. Where are the same studies on the MUCH LARGER NUMBER OF PROTESTERS from around the country that have been protesting somewhere all summer?

      1. I don’t want to hear about cases. I want to hear if people are dying and mostly they’re not. It has become obvious to me that we need to learn how to live with this virus. It’s not going away. Anyone that wants to live their life is going to get it in exactly the same way we now get a basketfull of other viruses and maladies. Do you run and hide from the flu Cameron? I don’t and won’t. Jeeez, I ride a motorcycle on the street in New Jersey and you’re talking about a largely harmless virus? Next.

      2. There are lots of people who have political motivation for over-estimating the infection rates. Have you been listening to the lying MSM?

    1. Ritchie, I do think the study was done in good faith. It’s simply researchers doing the job of estimating the impact with the tools they can use.

      Contract tracing would have been more accurate if done properly, but it’s very hard to do and very resource-heavy. They tried to use technology as best they could to get a number that was accurate. I suspect it’s a bit high, but I still think it’s likely that tens if not hundreds of thousands of people were exposed to COVID-19 as a result of the rally that otherwise wouldn’t have been.

      1. I strongly disagree with calling the study a good faith effort toward science. While I won’t go so far as to call it dishonest, one must question the validity of any study that extrapolates data based on simple proximity contacts. To get to the high number of cases and costs, the study used far too many false assumptions, and no one with a concern of their reputation would publish such nonsense without proper methodology and peer review.

    2. As the song says, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
      Virus has more freedom than you and me and doesn’t give a cr*p about your rights. Are the numbers alarming? Are they correct? Are the visitors to Sturgis immune? Bikers are tough. Virus is tougher. You are spitting into the wind. Hope you ducked.

  2. There’s an issue with this article as written. About halfway in this post states: “The CDC researchers said there are a total of 263,708 cases“

    But this was NOT a CDC study, it was an economic study by the IZA which used CDC data in their calculations.

  3. All of these numbers are “possibilities” theorized by the researchers. The Governor of South Dakota has provided numbers MUCH more realistic than these “SWAG” (Scientific Wild Ass Guesses). Seems this is just another leftist, liberal funded anti-American propaganda “study.”

  4. It’s rather amazing how Sturgis caused all these cases of Covid and yet the protest, riots, etc apparently aren’t related to any cases/spikes of Covid

  5. Ignorance and all the patriotism will not stop the spread of this virus, bring it in yourselves foolish people and poor government if the people.

  6. It is always amazed me also that protest, riots and other “approved” gatherings are not causing large infections. But should you gather at M/C rally, church, schools or other such things the world comes to an end. And I too what to see the death counts. Funny those were stopped and just the infections are being tossed about. There have been too many lies for too long for me to believe anything coming from a news source. Sign me a 73 year old skeptic.

  7. Uh yeah, they sure look like a conspiracy. The whole process to come up with numbers is flawed. When health officials across the country have admitted that ANY person who dies and has Covid19 is considered a covid death. You can die from an auto accident and if you have Covid19 then it is recorded as a covid death. The numbers have been skewed from the very beginning. Virus’s have been around for hundreds of years killing thousands of people. We all should be cautious when we’re around other people who display flu-like symptoms anyway. But until the state officials can give us accurate numbers, then these statistics are just another scare tactic drummed up by politicians to get more money. Did we forget it is an election year?

  8. Hey Tim you can’t be foolish enough to think that all the protestors/rioters/looters all wore their masks and social distanced.

  9. This is a “repeat ” of an article from 2 or 3 weeks ago. It starts off by saying ” it MAY” have contributed to xxx number of cases. It’s pure speculation from liberal colleges. The left wanted everyone that went to the rally to catch covid and become sick, just to prove a point. But I hate to tell you, I was there, I didn’t get sick and die not did anyone else I know that went. It’s just another scare tactic to scare the crap out of you. There is a Facebook group labeled ” sturgis motorcycle rally” that posed the same question, hundreds of people responded with ” i didn’t get sick, I was there with no man”

Comments are closed.