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In 2020, Sturgis, South Dakota made headlines for hosting its famous annual motorcycle rally while much of America was shut down.
Four hundred and sixty thousand bikers descended upon the Black Hills of South Dakota at the height of the coronavirus pandemic— making it one of the year’s most criticized events. Another reason it fell under such criticism is: a lot of the attendees were supporters of President Trump.
Some of the predictions were dire. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was quickly labelled a “Super Spreading” event. One study claimed the event was responsible for more than 266,000 Covid-19 cases, an astonishing “19 percent” or nearly one in five of every one reported in America at the time!
But on a visit to Sturgis off-season, I learned the facts ended up being far different.
City official Daniel Ainslie says there are many anecdotes of people who informed Sturgis that they were counted as a “Sturgis” Covid case in their home states even though they’d never stopped anywhere near Sturgis or the rally.
“We had one individual that stated that they were just driving to Washington state, and they were driving along I-90, which of course runs through our community. And so, then they were counted as one of the Sturgis recipients, even though they didn't even stop in Sturgis, they just stopped a couple of hundred miles to the East and a couple of hundred miles to the West. But according to their state health official, apparently they were a Sturgis victim of the coronavirus,” says Ainslie.
He adds that some media outlets were showing pictures of prior rallies and misrepresenting them as the 2020 Sturgis rally.
“We have several live feed cameras,” Ainslie tells me. “And we gave every media outlet permission so that they could use that, so that they could show current images. Because the vast majority of the time on our streets, there would be 40 or 50 people on a block. But instead they were showing images from previous rallies, and a lot of times it was from the 75th rally, which was massive, and it would show our streets lined with thousands and thousands of people. I mean it was images that were over five years old. And people acted differently in 2015 than what they did in 2020.
Ainslie said the town was told models predicted Sturgis hospitals would be overwhelmed and up to 5% of people in town would die— but that never came to pass.
Now, it’s widely acknowledged that there’s no way to know for sure if anybody was infected at Sturgis, let alone who and how many.
Based on statistics alone, scientific estimates indicate there should have been several hundred Covid deaths among the 460,000 Sturgis bikers, even if they hadn’t gone to the rally. In the end, the media linked anywhere from only one to about five fatalities to Sturgis… and none, says Ainslie, was scientifically traced to the event.
In South Dakota, public-health officials interviewed more than 80% of people confirmed to have Covid-19 in August and September, and they connected just 86 cases to the rally. Of those, four were hospitalized and one died.
“I don't think anyone was denying that there was a virus here, but I think people were saying that they can take responsible measures for themselves, and that can mean riding a motorcycle with some of your friends, and you are socially distant doing that. But there were a lot of people that were quite upset, that there were hundreds of thousands of Americans that were not going along with these harsh mandates that people were requiring,” says Ainslie. “I think there's a lot of people that say, ‘No, this is America,’ they want freedom. They understand that there should be some limitations to it, but those limitations can be abided by, and people can do it responsibly.”
Even statistics that sounded alarming seemed to reflect the opposite when examined. A New York Times report said: “In all, cases spread to more than 20 states and at least 300 people — including revelers’ families and co-workers who never set foot in South Dakota, according to state health officials.” But 300 people of 460,000 attendees would be just .065% or about six-hundredth of one percent of those who attended.
For its part, Sturgis issued a news release on September 9 last year called the San Diego State University IZA study that claimed 250,000 infections from Sturgis “blatantly faulty,” “outrageous” and “preposterous.” Community wide mass testing after the event found 26 positive cases out of 650 tested or 4% of those tested in the area.
“The hard data showed that there were about 260 cases that came from here. Now, the reality was there were probably some additional cases beyond those 260 that were immediately traced here, but to try to state that there were a quarter million, that's just ridiculous, and it was fanciful, and it was just pushing their narrative,” says Ainslie.