SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A group of scientists have linked 463 COVID-19 cases and one COVID-19 death to the 2020 Sturgis Rally.
A total of 649 reported cases of COVID-19 were found from 30 jurisdictions across the United States in a new report published in the Clinical Infectious Diseases — an international scientific journal published by Oxford University Press for the Infectious Diseases Society of America. The paper’s main author is Dr. Rosalind Carter, an epidemiologist for COVID-19 Response with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An interview request with the CDC to interview Dr. Carter was denied.
SDSU Department of Mathematics and Statistics professor Kurt Cogswell called the data used in the study “good science.” He specifically noted each case counted was in direct contact from health officials from various state and municipal health departments.
“There were no assumptions made here,” Cogswell said. “This is published in one of the most prestigious journals of infectious diseases in the world. They insist on the highest standards of scientific method being applied to anything they publish.”
The report presents “a national count of reported COVID-19 cases indicating geographic spread from those returning from the rally.” The 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 case or more Sturgis-related cases.
“This was a very high quality study,” Cogswell said. “The data sources were straight from state departments of health and municipal departments of health.”
The study found of 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.
“I think you can take this one to the bank,” Cogswell said. “If anything, the numbers they state are an undercount and that’s the way it should be done.”
The study found 140 cases per 100,000 attendees, but called that case rate underestimated because mild illness or asymptomatic persons did not get tested.
Cogswell noted the death rate from the study was low compared to the U.S. average.
“If I am going to see data used in public policy making, as a mathematician, I would I’m comfortable with this,” Cogswell said. “This study has real value.”
The conclusion of the study says the Sturgis Rally had “many characteristics of a super-spreading event: large crowds, high intensity of contact between people, potential for highly infectious individuals traveling from hotspots, and events in poorly ventilated indoor environments.”
“At least now, there’s a realistic estimate of the human cost of this event that you can balance against the human virtues and benefits of this event,” Cogswell said. “That’s good science. That’s the way you hope science works.”
Cogswell called the Clinical Infectious Diseases report the “polar opposite” of the IZA Institute of Labor Economics’ paper from September that linked 266,796 COVID-19 cases to the Sturgis Rally. Cogswell emphasized the IZA paper was used as a “discussion paper” and added it wasn’t peer-reviewed.
Gov Noem calls labeling Sturgis as a superspreader event ‘an absolute lie’
When asked about the recent Clinical Infectious Diseases report on the 2020 Sturgis Rally at a news conference Monday, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem did not hold back in defending the decision to hold the annual rally.
“That has been labeled for almost a year as a superspreader event, which is an absolute lie,” Noem said. “That’s the liberal, national media trying to demonize that event.”
Gov. Noem said the CDC has changed opinions and guidance based on political pressure at different times.
“We did not have significant cases,” Noem said. “Less than a couple handfuls of cases were traced to that event.”
Noem said the DOH all reported cases after the event and she said there were less than 50 cases to the event. She also added she is planning to attend the 2021 Sturgis Rally.
“We are excited about hosting the rally,” Noem said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to invite people to the state.”
South Dakota participates in the study
According to the South Dakota Department of Health, 124 South Dakota residents attended the Sturgis Rally before becoming ill with COVID-19. South Dakota’s state health department did participate in the study, Communications Director Daniel Bucheli confirmed to KELOLAND News.
Bucheli emailed a statement when asked about the findings of the Clinical Infectious Diseases report on the 2020 Sturgis Rally.
“The SD-DOH responded to a request from the CDC for data regarding Sturgis, known as ‘call for cases’. This participation is just one of many collaborative efforts with federal entities to combat COVID-19, and serves as another example as to why continued mitigation efforts remain important,” Bucheli said. “Our participation in the study does not mean complete agreement with the report finding(s), to include case counts. Given the numerous study participants, we cannot speak for their data collection or reporting methodology.”
In November, a report from the CDC and Minnesota Department of Health found 86 Minnesota COVID-19 cases were associated with the South Dakota motorcycle rally and approximately one third of counties in Minnesota reported at least one case epidemiologically linked to the event.