News & Politics

Cringeworthy Study Debunked: There Was No 'Sturgis Superspreader' COVID-19 Event

AP Photo/Toby Brusseau, File

There was not a “Sturgis superspreader” event infecting hundreds of thousands with COVID-19 at a cost of billions to American taxpayers.

A recent study claimed that the annual motorcycle rally held last month in Sturgis, South Dakota was a “superspreader event” infecting more than half of the 460,000 attendees at a cost of $12 billion to our public health institutions.

The Sturgis event happened, in that same wonderfully crazy way that the Sturgis rally always happens.

The “Sturgis superspreader” event did not happen.

Not even a little.

In a report titled “IZA DP No. 13670: The Contagion Externality of a Superspreading Event: The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and COVID-19,” claimed that “large crowds, coupled with minimal mask-wearing and social distancing by attendees” turned the rally into a “superspreader” infecting 260,000 people.

Authors Dhaval M. Dave, Andrew I. Friedson, Drew McNichols, and Joseph J. Sabia concluded that “the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally generated public health costs of approximately $12.2 billion.”

The public health risks of Sturgis were so rigorously studied by the authors that “no medical journal would touch it,” as bestselling author and public health writer Alex Berenson noted on Tuesday. Instead, the report was posted on the website of the obscure Insitute of Labor Economics, a leftwing German thinktank.

Our infotainment industry — formerly known as “the mainstream media,” and prior to that as “the news business” — went bonkers over the claim.

The Hill — formerly a respectable Washington-based publication — breathlessly ran the study’s claims as though they were undisputed by anyone without a political agenda. Reporter J. Edward Moreno briefly quoted South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) at the end of the piece, but that was it for “balance.” Instead, we got steno-pool quality reporting like this:

Based on the increase in case count, the researchers group, estimated that cases connected to the gathering resulted in $12 billion in public health costs, not including the costs associated with any deaths that might be tied to cases from the event. That dollar amount is based on another estimation that an average of $46,000 is spent on each patient who tests positive for COVID-19.

If you’re a reporter reporting on health issues and you didn’t take those claims with a grain of salt, or without at least quoting actual experts in the fields of infectious disease and public health, maybe you ought not to report on health issues.

For starters, the authors of the study made outrageous claims about the cost to treat a typical COVID-19 case, particularly asymptomatic cases.

COVID-19 doesn't cost this much

The typical cost for an asymptomatic case is probably close to zero, since most asymptomatic COVID-19 sufferers have no idea that they’re sick.

How many people actually suffered a death attributed to COVID-19 following Sturgis?

Sturgis superspreader event never happened

One.

Other infotainment outlets that fell for this rotten study include the usual suspects, and to date not one has issued a retraction or correction that I could find.

Here’s a partial list:

Yes, even Kaiser Health News. They really ought to know better.

Plus Fox News, The Washington Post, New York Times

I could go on, but I’m on a deadline. Also, I’d just like to add that it’s always the major infotainment outlets and the left-wing trolls in PJ Media’s comments section who accuse bloggers of writing nothing but clickbait.

In reality, the media prefers to spread COVID-19 panic and disinformation.

That’s why for the most part they didn’t apply a critical eye to a study that was ridiculous on the face of it.

As Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown noted earlier on Wednesday:

According to South Dakota health officials, 124 new cases in the state—including one fatal case—were directly linked to the rally. Overall, COVID-19 cases linked to the Sturgis rally were reported in 11 states as of September 2, to a tune of at least 260 new cases, according to The Washington Post.

If I’ve done my math right — and I have — the breathlessly repeated, non-medical, non-factual “study” was off by three orders of magnitude.

That is what actual scientists call “a whole lot of wrong.”

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Forget the Sturgis Superspreader and Get Ready for COVID-19 FEMA Camps