DOH spokesman: 39 cases linked to Sturgis Rally, 97% of all new COVID-19 cases have been from unvaccinated people

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This story has been updated to reflect the following correction: Department of Health spokesmen Daniel Bucheli confirmed to KELOLAND News that 39 cases of coronavirus have been directly linked to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Since the end of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally on Aug. 15, South Dakota has reported 3,412 new COVID-19 cases and 142 new hospitalizations.   

The South Dakota Department of Health says COVID-19 cases continue to be contact-traced and health officials are keeping track of all the cases associated with the Sturgis Rally. DOH spokesman Daniel Bucheli has previously told KELOLAND News the public report won’t be released until the department can “ensure the accuracy of such case reporting.”  

Bucheli did confirm that 39 cases of coronavirus have been directly linked to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

“It is important to mention that Meade county currently has a lower vaccination rate than other counties in the state. Fully vaccinated residents in this county is 45.1%, versus 55.94 % for the state as a whole,” Buchelli said.

Per the CDC, South Dakota ranks 29th in new cases, 35th in new hospitalizations and 50th in new deaths at this time.

Bucheli declined to say whether any of this week’s 2,042 new COVID-19 cases were associated with the motorcycle event. 

Bucheli did say 97% of all new SD COVID-19 cases, 93% of COVID-19 hospitalizations, and 95% of deaths are currently among the unvaccinated. 

“Vaccination is the quickest way out of this pandemic,” Bucheli said. 

South Dakota Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon and State Epidemiologist Dr. Joshua Clayton will be part of this week’s Inside KELOLAND Healthbeat Special airing Saturday and Sunday.  

In a Facebook post, Sanford Health said as of Aug. 24, 85 patients were hospitalized for COVID-19 (71 were unvaccinated), 21 patients were in the ICU (19 were unvaccinated) and 11 patients were on ventilators (10 were unvaccinated).

Earlier this month, officials at Monument Health told KELOLAND News they expected a rise in COVID-19 cases in the Black Hills following the Sturgis Rally. Dr. Shankar Kurra cited the more contagious Delta variant and a large percentage of unvaccinated people.

The home county for the annual motorcycle rally is seeing the highest percent of PCR COVID-19 tests come back positive in the state of South Dakota. According to the South Dakota Department of Health, Meade County has a weekly test-positivity rate of 36.1%. That means more than one out of every three COVID-19 tests are coming back positive in Meade County. 

Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, posted a series of tweets about the Sturgis Rally. On Aug. 12, he said South Dakota would “get a huge delta stress test” and “what happens over the next few weeks in SD will teach us a lot about how the pandemic plays out.”

He cited South Dakota’s population immunity to COVID-19 from past infections and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally would bring around 500,000 people together in the state. 

On Wednesday night, he said in just two weeks, “infection numbers have shot up nearly 600%” and “we remain vulnerable to gatherings like Sturgis.” 

An interview request by KELOLAND News for Dr. Jha was denied.

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