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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The coronavirus outbreak tied to the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D., ended up generating more than $12 billion in public health costs, according to a new discussion paper.

Why it matters: The analysis puts a point on just how bad these superspreader events can be — and the difficulty of preventing them solely with voluntary policies.

Background: The annual rally was held this year over 10 days in August, and included a Smash Mouth concert. The nearly 500,000 attendees came from all over the country, and social distancing and mask-wearing were mostly optional.

  • The visitors then left the city — which has a population of about 7,000 — and returned home, often taking the virus with them.

By the numbers: The rally led to 266,796 additional cases, or 19% of the new cases in the U.S. between Aug. 2 and Sept. 2., the paper found.

  • The event led to a 35% increase in cases in South Dakota. In counties that are home to the highest number of rally attendees, cases rose by 10.7% compared to counties without any attendees.
  • If each coronavirus case costs $46,000, that's an additional $12.2 billion added on to the pandemic's price tag.
  • "This is enough to have paid each of the estimated 462,182 rally attendees $26,553.64 not to attend," the authors write.

The other side: "Overall, I think the 'Sturgis Effect' that the authors document is in large part just a Midwest surge that took place during this time period. There is likely still a small Sturgis Effect...but the results are likely biased upward," tweeted Devin Pope, a professor at the University of Chicago.

The big picture: Given the state of contact tracing in the U.S. (bad), we'll never know how many coronavirus cases were actually tied to the Sturgis rally.

  • But it's a reminder that it takes collective action to contain the virus: As Sturgis revelers head back home, this South Dakota-centered outbreak has the potential to infect people who never went anywhere near Sturgis and thought they were doing everything right.

Go deeper

Dec 17, 2020 - Health

San Francisco to mandate 10-day quarantine for travelers from outside Bay Area

Photo: Justin Sullivan via Getty

San Francisco will enforce a travel quarantine effective Friday as California struggles to combat rising COVID-19 deaths and hospitalization rates.

Driving the news: Anyone “traveling, moving or returning to San Francisco from anywhere outside the Bay Area” will have to remain isolated for 10 days, Mayor London Breed announced on Thursday. The order will remain in place through at least Jan. 4.

Dec 17, 2020 - Health

CDC: Drug overdose deaths accelerated during pandemic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

An estimated 81,000 people died from a drug overdose between June 2019 and May 2020, the highest number ever recorded in a 12-month period, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released on Thursday.

Why it matters: The provisional data suggests the pandemic accelerated overdose deaths.

Dec 18, 2020 - Health

Supreme Court denies religious school challenge to Kentucky's COVID-19 restrictions

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (right). Photo: Jon Cherry via Getty

The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to block Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive order halting in-person instruction at most K-12 schools, including religious schools, through the end of the year, noting that the order "effectively expires this week or shortly thereafter."

Why it matters: The decision follows several cases that examined whether state coronavirus restrictions affecting religious institutions, including places of worship violate, the First Amendment.