Photo by 'Lyndonkw,' Creative Commons License 4.0

The coronavirus outbreak that began at this year's annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, has chalked up its first fatality, a 60-year-old man who died after attending the rally and returning home to Minnesota.The Minnesota Department of Health said the man had underlying health conditions, and was among 50 Sturgis participants who have brought the infection home to Minnesota.

The Washington Post reports that so far, its survey of public health departments has identified "at least 260 cases in 11 states tied directly to the event," of which 105 cases are in South Dakota. But epidemiologists believe that's well short of the full number, "due to the resistance of some rallygoers to testing and the limited contact tracing in some states." That means the full extent of infections from the August 5 to 17 event may never be known. With 460,000 "attendee vehicles," it's probably the largest gathering of people in the USA since the pandemic began. Guess that gives the Trump campaign a goal to shoot for.


Minnesota's state infectious disease director, Kris Ehresmann, said there didn't appear to be any single event or location during the rally that could be an epicenter of the outbreak; basically, it was everything.

"They attended multiple events, stayed at multiple campgrounds, were inside, outside," she said. "I think, given the number of individuals that were participating in the Sturgis event, I think it's fair to say that pretty much everyone was in a crowded setting."

In addition to the direct infections, Ehresmann said Minnesota is finding evidence that after participants returned to Minnesota, they then spread the virus to others, which is what tends to happen with infectious diseases. She said that one Minnesotan who went to Sturgis had spread the virus at a wedding, which is a joyful event bringing together two people who love each other, their families, and, when there's no attempt at preventing its spread, a deadly virus with no known cure.

Then there's this fun data bit from the Post:

An analysis of anonymized cellphone data, conducted by a firm called Camber Systems, found that 61 percent of all U.S. counties had been visited by a rallygoer.

That's good to know. We don't want a pickle, and we don't wanna be anywhere near you and your motorcycle.

Also, we would just like to pat the Minneapolis Star-Tribune for reporting that Minnesota currently has a total of "77,085 infections — with an untold number of additional infections being undetected in people who experienced mild or no symptoms." That caution should probably be a standard part of every story presenting COVID-19 stats, particularly since the CDC started recommending — under pressure from the White House — that tests weren't necessarily needed by people who've been exposed to the virus but have no symptoms.

There's currently a spike of coronavirus cases in the Dakotas, the Post notes:

South Dakota's seven-day averages for new cases stood at 347 on Sept. 2 compared to 107 two weeks earlier and its total caseload was 14,003, up from 10,566, according to The Post's tracking. In North Dakota, the seven-day averages for new cases was 257, up from 142 two weeks earlier and its total caseload was 12,267, compared to 8,968.

Also there's that untold number of undetected cases among people who don't have symptoms. The Post points out that epidemiologists believe the Sturgis rally is only responsible for part of the new outbreak, attributing much of the increase in infections across the Midwest to "people not following public health guidelines, not wearing masks and attending social gatherings such as weddings and funerals."

It probably doesn't help a whole hell of a lot that South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has consistently framed preventing the spread of the virus as none of the state's business, because people should be free to make their own decisions about their own health, and the health of everyone they encounter after attending super-spreader events. Earlier this month, Noem explained that anyone afraid of the virus could just not go to Sturgis, which is surely a big comfort to the folks in Minnesota who did not go to Sturgis, but attended a wedding where another person had. Hooray for the freedom!

We would like to clone Minnesota's Kris Ehresmann and send one of her to every state health department; she noted that part of the problem in Sturgis may have stemmed from a false belief that the virus can't be transmitted at outdoor gatherings.

Being outside is preferable to being inside, all things considered, when it comes to COVID transmission [...] Being outside does not eliminate risk. And being outside if you're not social distanced, if you're not wearing a mask, if you're not being attentive to all of the other important mitigation measures … doesn't save you, if you will, from COVID.

Oddly, NPR reports, the 7,000 or so residents of Sturgis itself have so far not seen an outbreak. After the rally, the city government offered free testing, and of the 650 people tested, only 26 were positive.

Sturgis City Manager Daniel Ainslie said that a 4% positivity rate falls within the range that state health officials would expect to find when testing asymptomatic individuals – even before the rally.


Daniel Ainslie (artist's conception)

Ainslie, who has a city to promote and a tourism industry to protect, told NPR he believed the positivity rate was evidence that social distancing measures the town suggested (but did not require) worked quite well. But NPR also notes that "Many Sturgis residents left town during the rally and those who stayed were encouraged not to have much contact with visitors and to take precautions when they did," which seems like a pretty good idea for any location where superspreaders plan to congregate.

And we checked: Sturgis does not mean "friendship."

[Star-Tribune / NPR / Photo: 'Lyndonkw,' Creative Commons License 4.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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