Holy Hell’s Angels. Last month’s motorcycle rally among the deplorables in Sturgis, South Dakota, contributed to 266,796 Covid-19 cases and $12.2 billion in public-health costs—or so claims a new study widely flogged by the media. Here is another example of how flawed statistical models can generate grossly exaggerated projections.
The annual 10-day rally with live performances, races and bike shows drew 460,000 Americans from around the country to the small town of Sturgis (population: 7,000). South Dakota is among the few states that never imposed a shelter-in-place order or face-mask mandate. It has also let restaurants and bars operate without restrictions.
Many in the media and various health sages warned that the motorcycle rally represented a “worst case scenario” for a “super-spreading” event. It would be surprising if the rally didn’t lead to at least some new Covid cases. But it’s impossible to know how many because there’s no data on how many attendees or their close contacts later tested positive.
Never fear, the modelers as always are here. San Diego State University’s Center for Health Economics & Policy Studies sought to quantify the rally’s Covid impact in South Dakota and nationwide by analyzing the (anonymous) cell-phone data of attendees. They then compared case trends in counties with high, moderate and low numbers of attendees.
They found that cases increased by 3.6 to 3.9 per 1,000 in South Dakota in the three weeks after the rally, translating to between 3,185 and 3,441 more cases statewide. To put this number in perspective, New York state has recorded as many cases in the last week even with its stringent public-health rules.
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