STURGIS, S.D. – Ten days after the 2021 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally rolled out of South Dakota, the event’s home county has the highest COVID-19 test-positivity rate statewide, and the numbers continue increasing, multiple media outlets reported.
According to the South Dakota Department of Health, Meade County has a weekly test-positivity rate of 36.1%, meaning more than one out of every three COVID-19 tests are coming back positive countywide, KELO-TV reported.
Statewide, active cases increased more than 290% from 657 on Aug. 4 to 2,589 on Aug. 23, compared with the 66% increase reported during the same period in 2020, the TV station reported.
According to Forbes, nearly 526,000 vehicles passed through Sturgis during the annual 10-day motorcycle rally bearing its name, representing the event’s highest attendance figure since the record-setting 2015 event.
South Dakota Health Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon told the Argus Leader on Friday that she is not “wholly surprised” to see a surge in COVID-19 cases based on previous viral-spread patterns, and she cautioned against reading too much into percent change figures in the numbers of new infections because of the region’s sparse population.
“To see the trends come from the East Coast, down to the southern parts of the country and then up the middle of the country, we did expect to see the virus spread that way,” Malsam-Rysdon told the newspaper.
“But it’s also important to keep the data in perspective. We have such a low population relative to other states, so the raw numbers themselves look very different, and when they’re illustrated as a percentage it can be a bit alarmist compared to the raw numbers,” she added.
The numbers are, in fact, bleak: Meade County reported the second-sharpest two-week increase in COVID-19 cases of any county nationwide of 1,233%, Forbes reported, citing data compiled by The New York Times.
Meanwhile, neighboring Lawrence County ranks third nationally with a 1,120% increase in cases, and the two South Dakota counties trail only Montana’s Richland County in terms of surge, Forbes reported.
Officials at Monument Health told KELO-TV that they expected a rise in COVID-19 cases in the Black Hills following the Sturgis rally, with Dr. Shankar Kurra citing both the highly transmissible delta variant and a large percentage of unvaccinated attendees as factors.
“We need to get folks between the ages of 12 and all the way up to 50 to become vaccinated. That’s what’s holding us back,” he told the TV station.
According to USA Today, South Dakota health officials confirmed 124 COVID-19 cases linked to the 2020 Sturgis rally by Sept. 8 of last year, and at least 12 other states reported at least 290 people combined tested positive after attending the event.
Daniel Bucheli, spokesman for the South Dakota Department of Health, said a similar report detailing 2021 figures will be made available when the data is complete, KELO-TV reported.
“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 issued during the rally.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the 2020 event had “many characteristics of a superspreading event,” resulting in 463 primary cases reported within two weeks of the rally and another 186 identified as secondary contacts, for a total of 649 cases traced to the event, KARE reported.
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