Health officials in Wisconsin, seven other states trace dozens of COVID cases to Sturgis rally
STURGIS, S.D. (WKBT) — Health officials in Wisconsin, Minnesota and six other states have traced dozens of COVID-19 cases to bikers who were among hundreds of thousands who swarmed to the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
North Dakota health officials have identified 17 cases and are offering free coronavirus tests to anyone who attended the 10-day rally, which ended Aug. 16.
The city of Sturgis also is conducting mass testing for its roughly 7,000 residents. City officials agreed to pay for the tests after residents objected to allowing the rally during a pandemic.
Statistics on positive tests were not available from Wisconsin or Minnesota, although nationally, the cases are reported to be well over 100. Other states reporting cases include South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming and Washington
Facial coverings were few and far between as the motorcyclists descended on the city, crowded into bars and flocked to tattoo parlors, sparking health officials’ fears about the gathering.
They face a formidable task of tracking an invisible virus that spread among bar-hoppers and rallygoers, who then spread out across the United States like spilled ink on a paper towel.
An analysis of anonymous cell phone data from Camber Systems, which aggregates cell phone activity for health researchers, found that 61% of all the counties in the U.S. have been visited by someone who had been at the Sturgis rally.
“Imagine trying to do contact tracing for the entire city of (Washington), D.C., but you also know that you don’t have any distancing, or the distancing is very, very limited, the masking is limited,” Navin Vembar, who co-founded Camber Systems, told The Associated Press.
“It all adds up to a very dangerous situation for people all over the place. Contact tracing becomes dramatically difficult,” Vembar said.
Stephen Sample, a rallygoer who rode back to Arizona last week, said, “I sat at a bar elbow-to-elbow with guys. No one was wearing masks.
Sample had visited One-Eyed Jack’s Saloon, a bar where health authorities later issued warnings. He said ge discussed quarantining with his wife after he returned but decided against it and had not had any COVID-19 symptoms.
Some bikers said they had gotten tested for COVID-19 after they returned home and received negative results.
Health officials in South Dakota have said they don’t know how many people were exposed, but they issued public warnings of possible COVID-19 exposure at five businesses most popular with bikers.
Republican South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has defied calls to cancel large gatherings and opposes requirements to wear masks. She welcomed the event, which in previous years brought in about $800 million in tourist spending, according to the state’s Department of Tourism.
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