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More than 100 COVID-19 cases in 8 states linked to Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota

Since the 10-day Sturgis Motorcycle Rally ended Aug. 16, 112 cases have been linked to the event by state health officials in South Dakota, Minnesota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming, Wisconsin and Washington, according to Forum News Service and other media reports.

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Spectators check out the numerous motorcycles parked along North Main Street for the Palace City Pre-Sturgis Party on Thursday evening in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Health officials in eight states have linked more than 100 COVID-19 cases to the huge motorcycle rally held earlier this month in Sturgis, S.D., according to a Forum News Service analysis Tuesday, Aug. 25.

Since the 10-day Sturgis rally ended Aug. 16, 112 cases have been linked to the event by state health officials in South Dakota, Minnesota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming, Wisconsin and Washington, according to FNS and other media reports.

The tally marks the largest yet known number of confirmed cases linked to the motorcycle rally. But it's still far too early to gauge the full extent of the spread of COVID-19 from the annual event, where organizers counted more than 460,000 vehicles in attendance from across the nation.

The state tallies and sources are (FNS unless otherwise noted):

A comprehensive tally for cases linked to the event may never be complete due to the state-based, patchwork approach to testing and contact tracing. While states may choose to announce the count of Sturgis-linked cases among its residents, there is no single state or federal government agency tracking all known cases from the giant event.
The limitations in tracking the spread of COVID-19 from Sturgis was evident in a Monday, Aug. 24, media call with South Dakota health officials. Despite reports of dozens of Sturgis-related cases elsewhere, state officials said they were only aware of three out-of-state COVID-19 cases linked to Sturgis.

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The department is notified of Sturgis-linked cases by other states only if they believe a resident who was sick with COVID-19 at the rally came in contact with South Dakotans, officials said.

South Dakota health officials have issued public advisories for potential COVID-19 exposure at several Sturgis businesses, due to positive tests from a tattoo shop employee and a patron of three bars. But because the rally's last day was just over a week ago, those may be far from the last issued warnings.

"We’re not out of the woods yet in terms of potential public notices resulting from the Sturgis rally," said Joshua Clayton, South Dakota's state epidemiologist.

Meanwhile, active COVID-19 cases in South Dakota have skyrocketed in recent days, outstripping the previous peak of the epidemic in May. Clayton pointed to data showing a sharp rise in new cases among people in their 20s from the Sioux Falls metro area as a significant contributor.

But new cases in the Black Hills area continue to rise as well, according to Department of Health data. Yet health officials have refrained from directly attributing the state's surging COVID-19 case count to the Sturgis rally.

“As we see more and more people engaging in things in their community and being around others, we expect to see more cases," said Kim Malsam-Rysdon, secretary of the Department of Health.

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Jeremy Fugleberg is editor of The Vault, Forum Communications Co.'s home for Midwest history, mysteries, crime and culture. He is also a member of the company's Editorial Advisory Board.
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