Public health officials have linked more than 120 new coronavirus infections to the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, which ended on Aug. 15.
The South Dakota Department of Transportation said close to 526,000 vehicles passed through Sturgis during the rally, which started Aug. 6; this was up 14 percent from 2020 and 5 percent from 2019. Through contact tracing, South Dakota health officials have linked 16 cases to the event, while their counterparts in North Dakota have identified 42 cases, followed by Wyoming with 32 cases, Wisconsin with 20 cases, and Minnesota with 13 cases, The Washington Post reports.
Because Sturgis attracts bikers from across the United States, making it harder to conduct contact tracing, it’s likely that the number of infections is higher, especially since the highly contagious Delta variant is the predominant strain in the U.S. Last summer, before vaccines were available, public health officials said it’s likely the rally was a contributing factor to a surge in cases in the Upper Midwest, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and South Dakota Department of Health found that it did lead to widespread transmission of the virus nationwide, the Post says.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who has criticized wearing masks and taking other safety precautions amid the pandemic, urged people to attend Sturgis in 2020 and 2021, writing on Facebook ahead of this year’s event that “there’s a risk associated with everything that we do in life. Bikers get that better than anyone.”
Since the rally, the CDC has designated Meade County, home to Sturgis, and nearby Pennington and Lawrence counties as “hot spots.” All three counties saw their case numbers start to go up in the month before the rally, and after the event, they’ve quadrupled or increased more than fivefold, the Post reports.
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