SIOUX FALLS (S.D. (AP) Rumbles emanating from the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally's motorcycles and rock shows have barely left the Black Hills of South Dakota. According to contact tracers, there are already 178 reports of COVID-19 infection among rallygoers in five states.
Coronavirus cases have increased sixfold in South Dakota since August's beginning, just three weeks after the rally began. Although it is unclear how many rallygoers have spread the virus via secondary infections, South Dakota health officials have reported 63 cases from residents who attended the event.
Meade County has been the epicenter of the rally. It is a hotbed for new cases and boasts a per capita rate comparable to those in the hardest-hit Southern States. Johns Hopkins researchers found that the county had the highest number of cases in the state within the past two weeks.
Monument Health, the largest hospital in the Black Hills, said Friday that it had seen its hospitalizations for the virus increase from 5 to 78 this month. It was preparing for more COVID-19 victims by making room conversions to intensive care units and changing staff.
Virus cases were already rising when the rally began. It's hard to gauge how much the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was to blame in a region that has seen local fairs, youth leagues, and other gatherings resume.
Meade County could however be a sign of things to follow for the Upper Midwest, as infection ripples from these events, according to Dr. Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesotas Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.
He said that the coronavirus forest fire would continue to burn any human wood it could find. It will find you and it is so infectious.
Minnesota, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Minnesota all reported cases among those who attended the rally. North Dakota also reported two hospitalizations. Some health officials suggested that the virus could have been spread to others.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention team determined that last year's rally was a superspreader affair. According to the team, the event taught them a valuable lesson: Large gatherings can lead to widespread transmission of infection. Participants should be vaccinated and wear masks.
This year's rally is very similar to last year, when it brought a wave that didn't subside until winter.
Osterholm stated that the pandemic effects of the rally will not be visible for several weeks, and that an exact count of cases will likely remain unknown.
A spokesperson for the state Department of Health Daniel Bucheli stated that the virus spike follows a national trend in all states, not just South Dakota.
He also noted that Meade County's vaccination rate is 45% lower than the state's 56% eligibility rate.
Sturgis also minimized the virus's impact, issuing a statement blaming the positive rate increase on "a significant increase of testing to prevent the spread of COVID-19", and accusing national media personnel of mischaracterizing it.
Despite the contagious delta variant of the virus, this year's motorcycle rally was bigger than ever. The rally drew more than 500,000 participants over the course of its 10-day duration.
Rallygoers filled the streets of Sturgis, South Dakota, drawn by the libertarian rules of South Dakota. Although helmets weren’t mandatory, they were encouraged to wear minimal clothing and no bodypainting. Masks were rarely seen. Bikers crowded into bars to see rock shows.
After contracting the virus, two bands performing at the rally cancelled their shows. Corey Taylor (lead singer of Slipknot) told fans that he was very sick with COVID-19. He did not specify where he got it.
Taylor stated this week in a Facebook video that it was the most severe illness I have ever experienced. It would have been so terrible if I hadn't been vaccinated.