States Report Coronavirus Cases Linked To Sturgis, S.D., Motorcycle Rally : Coronavirus Updates Public health officials across the U.S. reported dozens of cases in their states associated with people who attended the annual event, which drew hundreds of thousands in August.

States Report Coronavirus Cases Linked To Sturgis, S.D., Motorcycle Rally

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SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Last month, more than 460,000 people from all over the country descended on Sturgis, S.D., for the city's annual 10-day motorcycle rally. They gathered there despite concerns the event was primed to spread coronavirus. South Dakota does not require masks in public or prohibit large gatherings, and a majority of residents in Sturgis were against the rally. Now we're starting to get a sense of the impact of that event, including one death. NPR's Will Stone has been tracking the story and joins me now.

And Will, this rally wrapped up on August 16 - sounds like COVID-19 cases have been connected to the rally, as people who opposed it feared would happen.

WILL STONE, BYLINE: That's right. The running total is more than 250 cases, according to state health departments and media reports. And these are scattered all over the country - Colorado, Wyoming, Wisconsin, New Hampshire - more than 10 states. But the place with the biggest share connected to Sturgis is the home state, South Dakota. It currently has one of the worst infection rates in the country. And now they've linked more than 100 cases to Sturgis, and this is just our best estimate. Every day we learn of more.

PFEIFFER: So you've said that about 250 positive diagnoses at least - but nearly a half million people came to that rally. So 250 doesn't seem like a huge number, given that a half million people came.

STONE: No, it's not. But this is far from a complete picture. First, it hasn't been that long, and experts say we just can't draw too many conclusions yet. And tracking this is really hard. We have this patchwork of states reporting the data. Also, people need to know they have the virus and then voluntarily share that they went to Sturgis. Plus, we don't know how many secondary infections there are. So that's how many people caught the virus at the rally and then went on to infect others who never went. So public health experts say we'll probably never know the total number of infections associated with this rally.

PFEIFFER: But of course, there have been cases popping up all over the country, which was exactly the concern - that bikers would bring the virus home and spread it. What are public official - public health officials saying about that?

STONE: Well, they're pretty frustrated. They say that this was really predictable. One state that's dealing with the aftermath is Minnesota. They've identified more than 45 cases, and one person has actually died. Here's what Kris Ehresmann had to say. She's the infectious disease director at the state's department of health.

KRIS EHRESMANN: It's definitely frustrating because we certainly aren't surprised to see cases. And we recognize that it is really a result of this competing values. So obviously, from public health, our goal is to reduce morbidity and mortality. For other people, their value may be that their freedom is more important.

STONE: And this rally became just another flashpoint. The state's Republican governor, Kristi Noem, who's a strong ally of President Trump, encouraged people to come even though cases were starting to trend upwards even before Sturgis.

PFEIFFER: Sturgis has about 7,000 residents. How did this play out for them?

STONE: Sturgis actually did some follow-up testing for city employees, people who worked at the rally and for residents who wanted to. Just 650 people were tested, but they found only 4% were positive. And that's about what they would've expected to find if they had tested people even before the rally. So city officials say this is evidence that they did a pretty good job keeping things safe, at least within the city, when they held this event.

PFEIFFER: That's NPR's Will Stone.

Will, thanks for updating us on this Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

STONE: You're welcome.

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