South Dakota COVID cases increase 456% since Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

▶ Watch Video: Motorcyclists gather for Sturgis Rally as Delta variant cases surge

South Dakota has seen a sharp increase in daily COVID-19 cases following the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Meade County this month. Hundreds of thousands of bikers descended upon the area August 6-15, despite the Delta variant wreaking havoc on the U.S. 

On August 4, the date closest to the start of the rally for which data was available, the state reported 657 active cases. On August 25, the state reported 3,655 active cases. That’s a 456% increase of active cases from before the start of the rally to two weeks after, according to the state’s department of health.

As of August 24, about two weeks from the start of the event, South Dakota saw a weekly positivity rate of 38.8%. The week leading up to the rally — July 30 to August 6 — the state’s weekly positivity rate was much lower, at 10.38%, the department of health data shows. The week before that, July 23-30, the positivity rate was just 6.10%.

The rate of daily cases increased 486% from August 6, when 80 new cases were reported, to August 23, when 469 cases were reported. 

Meade County, where Sturgis is located, saw a 34.2% weekly positivity rate last week, according to the state department of health. 

About 61% of the state’s population over age 12 have been administered at least one dose of vaccine, and 55% are fully vaccinated, the department’s data shows. In Meade County, 7,984 people have been vaccinated. With a population of 28,332, that’s about 28% of the county vaccinated.

Vaccines are proven safe and effective. Despite this, the Delta variant is still rapidly spreading, and hospitals report the majority of their COVID-19 cases are in unvaccinated patients. 

Still, the national vaccination effort is once again showing signs of slowing. Just over half of the American population is fully vaccinated, far short of the elusive “herd immunity” some hoped the country would reach by the end of the summer.

At the Sturgis rally, vaccines were not required, Mola Lenghi reported for “CBS This Morning: Saturday.” “We’re not going to start checking papers. I mean, that’s not really an American way,” said Daniel Ainslie, city manager of Sturgis, which has a population of 7,000.

Last year, the motorcycle rally received scrutiny for welcoming half a million bikers from across the country to what was considered a “superspreader” event. About three weeks after the 2020 rally kicked off, more than 100 cases of COVID-19 connected to the rally were reported in at least eight states, The Associated Press reported, and the number of related cases kept growing in the weeks that followed.

At the time, COVID-19 vaccines were not yet available. Some safety measures, like sanitizing sidewalks, were put in place, but masks were not required, City of Sturgis Public Information Officer Christina Steele told CBS News via email ahead of the event. 

In an email to CBS News, Daniel Bucheli, spokesman for the South Dakota Department of Health, said, “COVID-19 case spikes are following a national trend being experienced in every state, not just South Dakota.”

“Regarding cases surrounding the Sturgis rally, our department has only been able to link 39 cases directly to this event,” Bucheli said. “It is important to mention that Meade County currently has a lower vaccination rate than other counties in the state. Fully vaccinated residents in this county is 45.1%, versus 55.94% for the state as a whole.”

CBS News has reached out to representatives of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and is awaiting response. 

© 2020 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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