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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

Nov 23, 2020 - Politics & Policy

California governor and family in quarantine after coronavirus exposure

California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) tweeted late Sunday that he and his family are quarantining after being exposed to COVID-19.

Details: Newsom said they learned Friday that three of his children had come into contact with a California Highway Patrol officer who tested positive for the coronavirus. "Thankfully, the entire family tested negative today," Newsom said.

Nov 23, 2020 - Health

U.S. coronavirus hospitalizations keep breaking records

Data: The COVID Tracking Project; Chart: Axios Visuals

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the U.S. has reached new record highs every day since Nov. 10.

Why it matters: Governors in states like North Dakota and Illinois have been warning about overburdened hospitals and limited beds for weeks.

Updated Nov 24, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Sen. Kelly Loeffler to return to campaign trail after 2nd negative test

Sen. Kelly Loeffler addresses supporters during a rally on Thursday. Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Sen. Kelly Loeffler's (R-Ga.) campaign announced Monday that she "looks forward to getting back out on the campaign trail" after testing negative for COVID-19 for a second time, following earlier conflicting results.

Why it matters: Loeffler has been campaigning at events ahead of a Jan. 5 runoff in elections that'll decide which party holds the Senate majority. Vice President Mike Pence was with her on Friday.