States banned most mass gatherings as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. One notable exception was the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August. According to the South Dakota Department of Transportation, over 460,000 vehicles attended the 10-day long event.
Last week, a Minnesota man in his 60s with underlying health conditions died after attending the event. Cases in Meade County, South Dakota, increased from 71 shortly after the event to more than 300.
But according to an analysis by experts published in the IZA Institute of Labor Economics journal, the actual impact of the rally could be far worse. A team of four university professors has estimated that the rally resulted in over 250,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, costing taxpayers $12 billion.
The group of researchers used cellphone data to calculate the number of people in attendance, as well as the behavior of those people. They then used CDC data and a synthetic control approach to estimate the number of coronavirus cases tied to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
"The spread of the virus due to the event was large," the researchers state. "We document large increases in cumulative cases relative to the synthetic counterfactual in the county of the event, and the cluster of CBGs in the county and adjoining the county over the entire post-event time period, with larger increases detected towards the end of the time period."
"Similarly, we find large increases statewide – with increases in the South Dakota cumulative COVID-19 caseload relative to the synthetic counterfactual that were between 3.6 and 3.9 cases per 1,000 population."
Taking this data into account, the researchers estimate that the rally could have resulted in over 250,000 cases of coronavirus.
"In counties with the largest relative inflow to the event, the per 1,000 case rate increased by 10.7 percent after 24 days following the onset of Sturgis Pre-Rally Events. Multiplying the percent case increases for the high, moderate-high and moderate inflow counties by each county’s respective pre-rally cumulative COVID-19 cases and aggregating, yields a total of 263,708 additional cases in these locations due to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally."
Adding in the cases from South Dakota, the group estimates that the motorcycle rally resulted in "266,796 or 19 percent of 1.4 million new cases of COVID-19 in the United States between August 2nd 2020 and September 2nd 2020."
"If we conservatively assume that all of these cases were non-fatal, then these cases represent a cost of over $12.2 billion," the group concluded. "This is enough to have paid each of the estimated 462,182 rally attendees $26,553.64 not to attend."
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, disputed the study, stating: “This report isn’t science; it’s fiction. Under the guise of academic research, this report is nothing short of an attack on those who exercised their personal freedom to attend Sturgis."