The goal of the study, which was carried out by researchers from the Center for Health Economics and Policy Studies at San Diego State University, was to estimate the virus’ reach and financial impacts of a single coronavirus superspreading event.
The ten-day motorcycle rally attracted more than 450,000 people, and prolonged interactions between individuals, along with “minimal mask-wearing and social distancing by attendees,” raised concerns that Sturgis would lead to the spread of the contagion, the study noted.
The researchers tapped into cell phone data to show increased foot traffic at bars, restaurants, and other social-gathering venues in the Sturgis area, and then extrapolated a possible infection count based on increased infection rates following the event.
Those findings, combined with a per-case cost estimate from other economists, also pointed to the conclusion that the rally maybe generated a public-health cost of about $12.2 billion. That amount is based on another finding that an average of $46,000 could be spent on each patient who tests positive for the virus.
“This is enough to have paid each of the estimated 462,182 rally attendees $26,553.64 not to attend,” the study said.
The study’s estimated number of new cases differs substantially from what has been reported by the South Dakota Department of Health.
As of Tuesday, the state reported 124 cases among South Dakota residents who fell ill after attending the rally. The Associated Press pinpointed 290 cases from twelve states tied to the event.
The study’s authors noted that the discrepancy is due to the fact that South Dakota is identifying specific cases only through contact tracing. In contrast, the study analyzed areas that sent the most people to the rally and how case trends changed after the event.
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem heavily criticized the study, calling it “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,” Noem said in a statement.
“Predictably, some in the media breathlessly report on this non-peer-reviewed model, built on incredibly faulty assumptions that do not reflect the actual facts and data here in South Dakota.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.