Minnesota reports 1st U.S. COVID-19 death linked to Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

People walk along Main Street in Sturgis, South Dakota.
(Image credit: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

The first COVID-19 death linked to South Dakota's Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was reported on Wednesday by the Minnesota Department of Health.

The man who died was a Minnesota resident in his 60s with underlying health conditions. Kris Ehresmann, the Minnesota Department of Health's infectious disease director, said the agency is tracking an outbreak of 50 cases connected to the rally. All 50 people attended Sturgis, Ehresmann said, and they may have spread the virus in their communities.

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is held annually, and this year's iteration drew more than 460,000 vehicles, down only about 8 percent from 2019. The event started on Aug. 7, and so far health departments in 11 states have reported at least 260 cases tied directly to the event, The Washington Post reports.

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Epidemiologists believe there are significantly more cases linked to Sturgis, the Post says, but the true numbers won't be known due to limited contact tracing in some states and attendees resisting being tested. The rally ended on Aug. 16, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that virus symptoms can take up to two weeks to appear.

There were major concerns that holding such a large event could spread the coronavirus across the country, but South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) urged organizers not to cancel, tweeting before Sturgis started that "South Dakota is in a good spot in our fight against COVID-19" and she was "excited for visitors to see what our great state has to offer!" On Wednesday, South Dakota's seven-day average for new cases was at 347, up from 107 two weeks ago. The state's total number of cases is 14,003, up from 10,566 two weeks ago.

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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for TheWeek.com. Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and EW.com, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.