Analyzing a COVID-19 “Super-Spreader” Event in Sturgis, SD

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The IZA Institute of Labor Economics has released The Contagion Externality of a Superspreading Event: The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and COVID-19 [coronavirus disease 2019], a discussion paper detailing the impacts of a possible COVID-19 “super-spreader” event. A “super-spreader” event occurs when “a single mass gathering has the potential to generate a large number of cases,” as was the case at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. This event hosted nearly 500,000 local and non-local attendees from August 7 to August 16, 2020. While attendees seemed unconcerned with social distancing and wearing masks, they city tried to ensured that event workers, emergency responders, local businesses, hospitals, and public facilities were prepared for the possible health hazard. All event workers and emergency resonders received COVID-19 testing and the city “performed daily health screenings on such personnel.” Personal protective equipment was stockpiled and made available to local businesses. Widely used public areas were sanitized and “hospital staging was increased.”

However, even with the precautions taking by the city, there was still an increase in COVID-19 cases, likely due to a lack of public rules and regulations as the only requirement imposed on attendees was that a mask be in their possession. According to the report, “counties that contributed the highest inflows of rally attendees experienced a 7.0 to 12.5 percent increase in COVID-19 cases relative to counties that did not contribute inflows.” Assuming all COVID-19 cases generated by this event were non-fatal cases, this event still incurred an estimated “public health costs of approximately $12.2 billion.”

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