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Port: Can we please exercise some skepticism about that report linking Sturgis to 267,000 cases of COVID-19?

Between Aug. 2 and Sept. 2 there were 1,472,621 new cases of COVID-19 documented in the United States. The report asks us to believe that nearly 20% of all of those cases are the result of the Sturgis rally.

Sturgis 3.jpg
Motorcycles packed the curbs of downtown Sturgis, South Dakota, during the bike rally's opening weekend. Adam Willis / The Forum
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MINOT, N.D. — A lot of people in the political world, and in the media industry, really want the recent Sturgis motorcycle rally to have been a pandemic disaster.

And, to be sure, hundreds of cases have been linked to the event, which drew in the ballpark of a quarter-million attendees to Meade County, S.D., with nearly three-quarters of them coming from outside of South Dakota and its neighboring states.

"A Forum News Service analysis of publicly reported information has raised the tally of COVID-19 cases linked to Sturgis to 310 in 13 states, but that number will be limited due to the patchwork nature of state case reporting and contact tracing, which isn't built to report and track infections from an event with attendees from multiple states," my colleague, Jeremy Fugleberg, reports .

I don't doubt that the actual count of cases linked to Sturgis is likely higher than 310, but is it 86,000% higher?

Fugleberg's story also cites a report from researchers at San Diego State University's Center for Health Economics & Policy Studies which suggests that hundreds of thousands of coronavirus infections should be attributed to the rally: "The Sturgis rally should be linked to 266,796 of cases reported nationwide between Aug. 2 and Sept. 2, the researchers said."

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They're estimating the economic toll of this spread at over $12 billion.

But those numbers aren't based on confirmed cases documented by public health officials. It's an estimate based mainly on cellphone tracking data from event attendees.

That sort of analysis might be useful, but when it reaches an estimate that's not even in the same ZIP code as what's been measured in terms of documented cases, shouldn't we be skeptical?

Most of the stories citing the SDSU study go on at length about how difficult contract tracing is for public health officials, particularly across state lines. While I won't deny the complexities involved in that sort of endeavor, everyone who is coming down with COVID-19 is being asked to answer questions about their movements.

Are we to believe that Sturgis attendees, en masse, aren't going to mention their trip to South Dakota? Given how much attention the rally has received from the news media, do you suppose anyone with even a couple of degrees of separation from someone who attended the event is going to be reticent about mentioning it during their post-positive interview?

The national data for COVID-19 positives isn't supporting this "superspreader" theory either.

Using the timeline from the SDSU report, between Aug. 2 and Sept. 2, there were 1,472,621 new cases of COVID-19 documented in the United States. The report asks us to believe that nearly 20% of all of those cases are the result of the Sturgis rally.

That would make the rally one of the largest variables impacting the spread of COVID-19 during that time window. As such, we should have seen a spike in the total number of documented cases nationally during the time window this report looks at.

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We did not.

This graph, via Worldmeters , shows the cumulative number of COVID-19 positives in the United States, and does not indicate an acceleration in cases owing to a rally the SDSU researchers claim contributed to almost 1 in 5 cases in August:

EMBED: World meters total cases graph

Not only is there little sign of an acceleration in the accumulation of COVID-19 positives during and after the Sturgis event, but the trend in the daily count of new cases during this time was also down, as this second chart from Worldmeters shows:

EMBED: World Meters Daily New Cases

I think it's true that the Sturgis rally resulted in the spread of COVID-19, and I believe the count of resulting cases is significantly higher than the 300 or so counted by public health officials so far.

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But the SDSU estimate is so far-and-away beyond what we see in the real world as to be unbelievable.

On a related note, anyone curious as to why our nation's academics have failed to do an analysis similar to this one of the spread of coronavirus from the protests and riots that have convulsed many areas of our country in recent months? Or are those events off-limits, since so many public health officials have endorsed them to the detriment of their own credibility ?

UPDATE: Turns out I was wrong about the research into the impact of Black Lives Matter protests, as my colleague Jeremy Fugleberg points out:

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

Related Topics: CORONAVIRUS
Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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