This State Is Doing the Worst at Managing COVID Infections Right Now

The infection rate race has a new state in last place: South Dakota. (And Sturgis is likely to blame.)

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Keeping track of which state currently has the worst coronavirus outbreak can be head-spinning, as case counts are changing constantly. But as of now, COVID-19's wheel of misfortune is pointing at a new state: South Dakota. According to the website rt.live, which tracks the daily rise and fall of infection rates across all 50 states, South Dakota is currently seeing the worst COVID infection rate in the nation, giving new meaning to the "badlands."

Rt.live tracks each state's Rt value, which is "the average number of people who become infected by an infectious person." If a state's Rt value is higher than 1, that means COVID is spreading quickly. But if it's under 1, the virus' spread is slowing.

South Dakota currently rests at the bottom of the list among all 50 states, with an estimated Rt value of 1.27. By comparison, the state with the lowest Rt value in the country is Washington, which comes in at .76.

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Like many states, South Dakota has endured peaks and valleys in its battle against the coronavirus. Early April saw South Dakota's worst infection rate, as outbreaks emerged in meat-packing facilities in the state. But through late spring and the early parts of the summer, the virus's spread slowed, instead taking over the Sun Belt states.

However, that's shifted again recently.

So, what is behind the sharp spike in South Dakota's infection rate? The annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, which was held from Aug. 7 and Aug. 16.

Roughly 250,000 bikers attend the rally each year, and the 2020 version went on as planned, despite the public health risk. The event made headlines after many attendees disregarded social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines.

Bikers cruise along Highway 24 near Wyoming's Devils Tower on Friday, August 14, 2020. Every year, bikers who attend the nearby Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota descend on the iconic landmark.
Alamy News Live

The effects of the Sturgis motorcycle rally have not just appeared in South Dakota, either—there are reports of over 100 cases tied to the rally already cropping up nationwide. In fact, the Associated Press reports that those who attended the 10-day festival have since traveled back to 61 percent of all U.S. counties, based on cell phone data.

Residents of South Dakota can take some solace in knowing that previous states with the worst infection rates in the U.S. have turned things around. Over the past two weeks, Hawaii was in the last place, but increased mitigation efforts improved its rate from 1.34 to 1.19. If you need a better example of a state going "worst to first," check out This Former "Red Zone" State Now Has the Lowest Infection Rate in the U.S.

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