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COVID-19 death tied to Sturgis Rally reported in Minnesota

                                People congregate at One-Eyed Jack’s Saloon during the 80th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, S.D., on Aug. 7.


    People congregate at One-Eyed Jack’s Saloon during the 80th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, S.D., on Aug. 7.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. >> A Minnesota man who attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota last month has died from COVID-19, Minnesota health officials reported today.

It is the first reported coronavirus death that might be linked to the biker rally. At least 290 people in 12 states have tested positive for the coronavirus since attending the rally that drew hundreds of thousands of people, according to an Associated Press survey.

The 10-day rally went forward despite fears it could become a super-spread event, with South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem welcoming bikers and the tourist dollars they spend. Bikers crowded into bars and rock shows, mostly ignoring social distancing recommendations. Few wore masks.

Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director at the Minnesota Department of Health, said health officials have also seen infections spread from people who attended Sturgis, but those infections weren’t included in the state’s count of Sturgis-linked infections, which stood at 50 today.

She said people who attended the rally have reported moving between events, campgrounds and indoor and outdoor spaces.

“Pretty much everyone was in a crowded setting,” Ehresmann said.

The man who died in Minnesota was in his 60s, had underlying health conditions and was hospitalized before he died, according to Ehresmann.

The Washington Post first reported the death.

For 10 days in August, the rally creates a travel hub in western South Dakota comparable to a major U.S. city, according to an analysis of anonymous cellphone data from Camber Systems, a firm that aggregates cellphone activity for health researchers. The research found that 61% of all counties in the U.S. have been visited by someone who attended Sturgis this summer.

Health officials in Wisconsin and New Jersey reported that one person in each of those states has been hospitalized with the coronavirus after attending Sturgis.

Elizabeth Goodsitt, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, said some of the 23 people from Wisconsin who tested positive after the rally mentioned other places where they may have been exposed.

“We can’t say that Sturgis was or was not the cause of these cases,” Goodsitt said.

Tracking possible infections among riders who moved between bars, campgrounds and rock shows then scattered across the country is a nearly impossible task for health officials.

The South Dakota Department of Health has reported 105 confirmed new cases tied to the rally. The city of Sturgis made coronavirus tests available to residents and city employees after the rally in an attempt to uncover those who were infected but had no symptoms.

There’s been a surge in infections in South Dakota since the rally; the state ranks third in the country for new cases per capita over the past two weeks.

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