The 80th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally took place from August 7-16 in South Dakota. Attendance at the rally was slightly down, at 462,000, a 7.5% decrease from 2019. No doubt COVID-19 fears played a part in the attendance reduction. Perhaps those with pre-existing health conditions declined to attend.
COVID-19 panic certainly preceded the rally. Indeed, it was predicted that it would be a mass superspreader event that would result in significant illness and death. Or not. The numbers are in for the City of Sturgis, and they are quite laughable. More people died from fatal crashes during the rally than from the virus.
The City of Sturgis conducted mass COVID testing for its citizens after welcoming hundreds of thousands of visitors for the 80th annual Motorcycle Rally. Now, the city is announcing the results.
A total of 650 people took advantage of the free testing, with 26 people testing positive for COVID-19.
All of them were asymptomatic at the time of testing.
It is unlikely there will be new positive tests related to the rally. It would also be highly unusual for symptoms to appear at this stage. The city waited 12 days before publishing the results and the most common point for symptoms to appear is between days four and five after infection.
In total, it appears, as of August 28, 12 days after the rally, a total of 196 positive tests were linked to rally attendance:
STURGIS: Reported COVID-19 cases linked to the South Dakota motorcycle rally is 196, by my latest count this AM. Tracking continues. Tally:
— jayfug (@jayfug) August 28, 2020
Positive tests after August 28 would be challenging to tie to attendance at the rally given the updated CDC guidance. It’s rare for symptoms to appear after day 12. Though it can happen up to 14 days after infection, this is not the norm. Any positive tests with symptoms now are likely to be from local community spread after the person returned home.
Given all we know now, it is imperative to distinguish between positive tests and cases. This distinction matters because:
- A new study shows that 90% of positive tests contain low levels of the virus incapable of causing illness or being transmitted.
- Studies show a robust T-cell response in 40-80% of individuals based on previous exposure to other coronaviruses.
- The CDC has said that in recovered patients, including those who test positive and are asymptomatic, the viral debris can be detected and produce a positive result for 90 days after recovery. They actually discourage retesting.
- In asymptomatic individuals, scientists theorize the viral debris may be the casualty of an effective immune response, which happens all the time when healthy individuals encounter a virus the body recognizes elements of.
We should be more than thrilled with these numbers given it was a gathering of nearly a half a million people with little social distancing and a lot of close-contact extracurriculars. The City of Sturgis offered screening tests for asymptomatic people. If a PCR test can detect viral particles for up to 90 days, there is no guarantee that the individuals who tested positive were exposed at the rally, especially if they never developed symptoms.
The same holds for rally attendees. I can only find confirmation of three hospitalizations at this point in the reporting. Two of the patients have confirmed discharges indicating they will fully recover. Since they had symptoms and developed them within fourteen days of the rally, contracting the virus during their travels or attendance seems likely. By way of contrast, there were four fatal crashes at the Sturgis event that killed five people.
Even using the largest number of positive tests and granting they all 222 resulted from rally attendance, 0.048% of attendees and contacts tested positive for COVID-19. Some states have done contact-tracing on people who tested positive post-rally and included those individuals in their reporting.
You won’t see this reported in the media nationally. It is too much good news. If almost half a million people can gather for an event that spans 10 days with this outcome, it puts their COVID-19 panic porn to rest. The case for mail-in voting would die. We could conduct a safe and secure election as usual. People could go back to work and school without screening tests or masks. And college football would be a go nationwide.
Of course, we still need to protect the vulnerable from COVID-19. The latest from the CDC demonstrates that those who are over the age of 65, obese, have diabetes, or other pre-existing conditions need to be cautious. Those who live with these individuals need to protect them by following the CDC guidelines. However, there is a significant portion of the population that can go back to everyday life with confidence. They should be allowed to do so immediately.
Update Sept. 2, 5:03 p.m. ET: The New York Times reported today that a Minnesota man is the first person thought to have died of COVID-19 after attending the Sturgis rally.