Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Lawmaker: Sturgis COVID Study Kicks Off Important Line Of Questioning

Charles Michael Ray

Governor Kristi Noem is blasting a study that finds the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is linked to over 250-thousand coronavirus cases across the country and responsible for 12 billion dollars in public health costs.

One state lawmakers says the study asks a unique question about the impact of the rally.

The study uses anonymized smartphone data from a company called SafeGraph, which found rally goers travelled from all corners of the country to the Black Hills for the 10-day event.

Governor Noem call the report fiction and an attack on those exercising their personal freedom to attend the Sturgis Rally.

State epidemiologist Josh Clayton says the report doesn’t align with what the state knows about impacts among rally attendees.

“This has been issued as a white paper,” Clayton says. “White papers are not peer reviewed publications. The study does use an ecologic approach. In my review, so far, did not account for an already increasing trend of cases within the state.”

Clayton says the state knows of 124 cases of COVID-19 among South Dakota residents. The study looks at the swell of coronavirus spread in the weeks during and after the rally.

State Senator Reynold Nesiba is a Democrat from Sioux Falls. He’s an economics professor at Augustana University. He says a peer reviewed study would be of higher quality. However, he says the study is asking an interesting question: “What are the negative impacts of having the Sturgis motorcycle rally during a pandemic?”

“All sorts of models have their limitations and we talk about them in our classrooms and in our conferences and in our conversations with each other in refereed journal articles,” Nesiba says. “So, I think they’re asking an important question. They’re using an interesting dataset. They have a novel approach to try and solve this question. I think it’s the beginning of a conversation, not the end of a conversation.”

Nesiba says the research attempts to give people a sense of the magnitude of the Sturgis Rally and its aftereffects. He says calling the study a fraud is misplaced.

The authors of the paper did not return a request for comment.

Lee Strubinger is the politics and public policy reporter for SDPB.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.