This Superspreader Event Led to $12 Billion in Public Health Bills

Economists estimate that the August motorcycle rally was much worse than expected.

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According to medical and public health experts, the Aug. 2020 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was a superspreader event, leading to a sharp spike in infections across the nation. An economic research team has now put a price tag on the public health cost of the event, and concluded that the Sturgis rally generated public health costs of over $12 billion.

Roughly 460,000 motorcycling enthusiasts attended the Sturgis event this year, a majority of which ignored coronavirus mitigation guidelines, according to CNN. As a result, the large crowds of unmasked attendees raised more than the nation's eyebrows—they also increased the COVID-19 infection rate in 60 percent of U.S. counties, as of Aug. 25.

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Researchers at IZA, a nonprofit economic research institute supported by the Deutsche Post Foundation and affiliated with the University of Bonn, took a deep dive into the ill effects of the superspreader event, and put a stunning public health price tag on how it affected the U.S. economy. "We conclude that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally generated public health costs of approximately $12.2 billion," says the report.

The research team took a hard look at the spike in cases from the Sturgis event by first evaluating anonymous cell phone data and foot traffic at restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues, which they compared to infection numbers provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A month following the onset of the rally, they found that COVID-19 cases increased by approximately 6 to 7 cases per 1,000 individuals in Sturgis' home county of Meade, South Dakota. Researchers also concluded that, following the Sturgis event, "counties that contributed the highest inflows of rally attendees experienced a 7.0 to 12.5 percent increase in COVID-19 cases compared to counties that did not contribute attendees."

A view of Rapid City, South Dakota at night, with a park in the foreground.
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Researchers then used a previous study from IZA that looked at the financial costs of non-lethal COVID-19 cases that concluded each infection leads to $47,000 in public health costs per patient. This medical and economic expense number is derived from the total non-lethal cases applied to overall financial losses in the U.S., based on cumulative cases and hospitalizations from Jan. 22, 2020 to July 27, 2020.

"The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally generated substantial public health costs," the report concluded. "While we note that this estimate captures the full costs of infections due to the Sturgis rally—and is an overestimate of the externality cost because this number includes COVID-19 infections to individuals who attended the rally (and may have internalized private health risks)—we nonetheless conclude that local and nationwide contagion from this event was substantial."

In the run-up to the Sturgis rally, local officials defended hosting the event amid the pandemic as it annually provides a huge economic boon to the local economy. According to economic researchers, however, the public health costs that came as a result likely outweigh an increase in local revenue. And for more on the spread of coronavirus in the Midwest, check out The 7 States Dr. Fauci Is Most Worried About Right Now.

 

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