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First COVID-19 death tied to Sturgis Rally reported in Minnesota

People at a bar during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, S.D.
People congregate at One-Eyed Jack’s Saloon on Aug. 7 during the 80th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, S.D.
(Stephen Groves / Associated Press)

A Minnesota man who attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota last month has died from COVID-19, Minnesota health officials reported Wednesday.

It is the first reported coronavirus death that might be linked to the biker rally, which drew hundreds of thousands of people. At least 290 people in 12 states have tested positive for the coronavirus since attending the rally, according to an Associated Press survey.

The 10-day rally went forward despite fears it could become a super-spreading event, with South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem welcoming bikers and their tourist dollars. Bikers crowded into bars and rock shows, mostly ignoring social distancing recommendations. Few wore masks.

There’s been a surge in infections in South Dakota since the rally; the state ranks third in the country for new cases per capita over the past two weeks.

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Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director at the Minnesota Department of Health, said health officials in her state have also seen infections spread from people who attended Sturgis, but those infections weren’t included in Minnesota’s count of Sturgis-linked infections, which stood at 50 on Wednesday.

Ehresmann said people who attended the rally have reported moving between events, campgrounds and indoor and outdoor spaces. “Pretty much everyone was in a crowded setting,” she said.

A study of COVID-19 patients and the people they likely infected suggests the coronavirus can spread for more than two days before symptoms appear.

The man who died in Minnesota was in his 60s, had underlying health conditions and was hospitalized before he died, according to Ehresmann.

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The Washington Post first reported the death.

For 10 days in August, the rally creates a travel hub in western South Dakota comparable to a major U.S. city, according to an analysis of anonymous cellphone data from Camber Systems, a firm that aggregates cellphone activity for health researchers. The research found that 61% of all counties in the U.S. have been visited by someone who attended Sturgis this summer.

Health officials in Wisconsin and New Jersey reported that one person in each of those states has been hospitalized with the coronavirus after attending Sturgis.

Elizabeth Goodsitt, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, said some of the 23 people from Wisconsin who tested positive after the rally mentioned other places where they may have been exposed.

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“We can’t say that Sturgis was or was not the cause of these cases,” Goodsitt said.

Tracking possible infections among riders who moved between bars, campgrounds and rock shows and then scattered across the country is a nearly impossible task for health officials.

The South Dakota Department of Health has reported 105 confirmed new cases tied to the rally. The city of Sturgis made coronavirus tests available to residents and city employees after the rally in an attempt to uncover those who were infected but had no symptoms.


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