COVID-19 Cases Spike After Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Again

Carolyn Crist

August 26, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

COVID-19 cases are rising in South Dakota where the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was held about two weeks ago, likely repeating the spike seen after last year's event, according to Forbes.

Meade County, where the city of Sturgis is located, is adding about 35 new cases per day, according to  The New York Times data tracker. Two adjacent counties — Lawrence County and Butte County — are adding 23 and 10 new cases per day, respectively. Before the rally, the counties had few new cases, if any.

The numbers are small but represent a major jump for the rural counties. Meade and Lawrence counties have populations under 30,000, and Butte County has about 10,000 residents.

Meade County has the second-sharpest increase in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. compared to two weeks ago, according to The New York Times tracker. The county is reporting a 1,540% increase in cases.

Similarly, Lawrence County is third on the list with a 1,520% increase, and Butte County is fourth on the list with a 1,050% increase. The three counties trail Mackinac County, Michigan, which is reporting 5 new daily cases among its 11,000 residents.

Hospitalizations have also increased about 230% in the counties, according to The New York Times tracker. None of the counties have reported new COVID-19 deaths, which tend to lag behind surges in cases and hospitalizations.

The testing positivity rate was extremely high during the last week, according to data from the South Dakota Department of Health. Meade County reported about 35% test positivity for Aug. 16-22, followed by 32% in Butte County and 21% in Lawrence County.

The counties have low vaccination rates as well. About 38% of Meade County is fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker, as compared with 52% across the U.S. About 37% of residents in Lawrence County are vaccinated, and 26% of residents in Butte County are vaccinated.

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, held between Aug. 6-15, attracted large crowds and had no capacity restrictions or mask mandates, Forbes reported. More than 525,000 vehicles passed through the town during the rally this year, which is the highest number since its peak attendance in 2015.

Last year, the CDC definitively linked 649 COVID-19 cases to the 2020 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, though public health officials have said the number is likely higher since it was difficult to track attendees. A study released last September, which used anonymous cell phone data, suggested the event may have led to 250,000 cases across the country.


Forbes: "COVID Cases Spike After Sturgis Motorcycle Rally — Again."

The New York Times: "Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count."