Joel Shannon-USA TODAY
The first COVID-19 death associated with a massive biker rally in Sturgis, South Dakota has been reported weeks after the event attracted more than 400,000 vehicles and drew widespread concern from public health officials.
The death was reported by Minnesota Department of Health Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann at a Wednesday briefing. Minnesota — South Dakota’s neighbor to the east — is tracking an ongoing outbreak of 50 cases tied to the August event, Ehresmann said.
A Minnesota man who died was in his 60s and had underlying health conditions. The 50-case outbreak only includes people who attended the event, Ehresmann said, noting that those infected individuals may have spread the virus to others.
Infections linked to the event have been reported among people in states from coast to coast. The rally went forward despite fears it could become a super-spread event. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem welcomed bikers and the tourist dollars they spend.
While the 2020 Rally was expected to be significantly smaller than previous years, it was down in size only 8% from 2019, and drew drew more than 460,000 vehicles, according to a count South Dakota transportation officials.
Noem tweeted ahead of the event: “I trusted my people, they trusted me, and South Dakota is in a good spot in our fight against COVID-19. The #Sturgis motorcycle rally starts this weekend, and we’re excited for visitors to see what our great state has to offer!”
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Attendees were largely free of social distancing restrictions common elsewhere in the country during this year’s 10-day festival.
South Dakota has seen the bulk of cases tied to the rally, with the Department of Health reporting 105 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 people who had infections but no symptoms.
The rally ended on Aug. 16, and virus symptoms can take up to two weeks to present, according to the CDC. Severe illness or death can lag days or weeks behind the beginning of COVID-19 symptoms.