COVID-19 cases have spiked more than 500% in the weeks after hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists flocked to South Dakota for the famous Sturgis Bike Rally, which drew one of its largest crowds yet this year despite the fast-spreading delta variant.
The annual event kicked off in Meade County on Aug. 6 and wrapped on Aug. 15. Just two days before motorcycle enthusiasts descended on the state, South Dakota reported a total of 657 active cases.
As of Friday, there were 3,992 people battling infections across South Dakota, with an average of 243 new cases and 123 hospitalizations daily. Meade County, home to Sturgis, has counted 330 new cases in the last two weeks, up from the 20 reported in the two weeks before the rally, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Meade County is also experiencing a positivity rate of about 34.2%
As of Aug. 24, about two weeks since the start of the event, South Dakota saw its weekly statewide positivity rate climb to about 38.8%. The week leading up to the rally — July 30 to Aug. 6 — the figure was significantly lower, at 10.38%, the department of health data shows. And just the week prior, the positivity rate stood at about just 6% in the state.
And while it’s still too soon to officially determine whether the spike is directly linked to the Sturgis Bike rally, which brings an estimated annual revenue of $800 million to the town, the event last year was labeled a super spreader.
A post-mortem of the 2020 Sturgis rally revealed it led to “widespread transmission” and coronavirus cases in at least 25 other states.
“Although the number of cases identified is sizable — 140 cases per 100,000 attendees — it is likely that the true national impact of the Sturgis event is underestimated,” said the study, written in part by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, citing asymptomatic cases, visitors failing to report attendance and difficulties with contact tracing.
In an email to NBC News, a South Dakota Department of Health spokesperson, Daniel Bucheli, said the increase in cases across the state “are following a national trend being experienced in every state.”
“Regarding cases surrounding the Sturgis Rally, our Department has only been able to link 16 cases directly to this event,” Bucheli said. “It is important to mention that Meade county currently has a lower vaccination rate than other counties in SD.”