RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) — Concerns about rising COVID-19 cases amid the 81st annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally continued to grow as the South Dakota Department of Health announced a 73% increase in new daily cases on Wednesday.
Officials at Rapid City-based Monument Health told KELOLAND News they are expecting a coronavirus surge following this year’s rally.
“The pandemic is still ongoing,” Dr. Shankar Kurra said on Wednesday. “What we are seeing here today is the unvaccinated getting infected.”
Dr. Kurra said “unfortunately” part of the unvaccinated group are children under the age of 12.
“All the more reason for us adults to be vaccinated,” Dr. Kurra said. “So go get your shot to save lives South Dakota.”
The combination of the more contagious Delta variant and vaccination rates under 40% for the total population in counties in the Black Hills is fueling the concerns. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pennington and Meade Counties are at 37% of the total population fully vaccinated, while Lawerence County is at 36% and Custer County is at 34%.
“We need to get folks between the ages of 12 and all the way up to 50 to become vaccinated,” said Dr. Kurra, adding about one third of people in those age ranges are fully vaccinated. “That’s what’s holding us back.”
The CDC reported on Aug. 6, the official start of the Sturgis Rally, 1,863 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were given out. That was the highest number since mid-June.
“There is only one way to stop this pandemic and it’s the vaccine,” Dr. Kurra said. “It’s not masks. It’s not social distancing. Those are additives, but they’re not going to stop the pandemic.”
On Wednesday, the DOH is reporting 55% of the state’s population age 12 and older has become fully vaccinated. Dr. Kurra urged people who are eligible to become vaccinated to think about children under 12 who cannot receive the vaccine.
“It’s very important that we become the firewall,” Dr. Kurra said. “This risk is not zero for those below the age of 12.”
DOH officials continues to contact trace COVID-19 cases, working to ‘ensure’ accuracy of cases tied to the Sturgis Rally
Through Tuesday, the city of Sturgis said it received requests for 32 coronavirus tests since the rally began.
In September 2020, the South Dakota Department of Health reported 124 South Dakota residents attended the Sturgis Rally before becoming ill with COVID-19.
DOH spokesman Daniel Bucheli told KELOLAND News a similar report will be made publicly available when finished. He said DOH continues to contact trace new COVID-19 infections.
“With any event of this size and different partners involved, this may take some time as we want to ensure the accuracy of such case reporting,” Bucheli said in a statement.
A complete Sturgis Rally 2020 report authored by Dr. Rosalind Carter, an epidemiologist for COVID-19 Response with the CDC wasn’t released until May 2021.
The report was published in the Clinical Infectious Diseases — an international scientific journal published by Oxford University Press for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
That study found 649 reported cases, 463 were laboratory-confirmed or probable primary cases from people after traveling to Meade County from August 1-30 or attendance at the Sturgis Rally Aug. 7-16. There were 17 hospitalizations and one death reported. From the 463 cases, 399 showed symptoms, while 42 cases did not show symptoms and 22 are unknown.
South Dakota State University Department of Mathematics and Statistics professor Kurt Cogswell told KELOLAND News the CDC report was “a very high quality study” and added “the data sources were straight from state departments of health and municipal departments of health.”
The 2020 study requested information from all 50 state health departments and four municipal health departments (Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles). Only 39 of the 54 jurisdictions reported back to the study and nine reported no cases, while 30 reported one or more Sturgis-related cases.