South Dakota’s governor has claimed that a study that said a motorcycle rally in the state may have led to 260,000 Covid-19 infections was “made up”.
When asked about the study, carried out by economics experts, which suggested the rally was a “superspreader event”, Gov Noem insisted “that’s actually not factual whatsoever.”
“What they did is they took a snapshot in time and they did a lot of speculation, did some back of the napkin math and made up some numbers and published them,” she said.
Despite the state having seen a 126 per cent increase in new coronavirus cases (over 3,700) in the last two weeks, according to NBC News, the governor insisted that the state had only identified 124 cases tied to the rally and that the study was “completely false” .
Dhaval Dave, an economics professor at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, one of the study’s authors, told NBC News they “stand by the entirety of our coronavirus research.”
“We used publicly available data that other researchers have used, including the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). These are not forecasting exercises.”
In the study, researchers used anonymised mobile phone data to track “smartphone pings from non-residents” and traffic in restaurants, bars, retail establishments, entertainment venues, hotels, and campgrounds.
They determined that the “substantial” rise in foot traffic combined with lack of social distancing and mask-wearing created a “superspreading event.”
The governor has been frequently criticised for her relaxed attitude towards coronavirus regulations in the state, prioritising a “personal responsibility” approach.
She welcomed rally attendees to the event in August posting on Twitter: “#Sturgis2020 kicks off today. Welcome to South Dakota! Our state had the Mount Rushmore Fireworks Celebration. We’ve been ‘back to normal’ for over three months, and South Dakota is in a good spot.”
In July the state hosted an Independence Day celebration at Mount Rushmore featuring a speech by Donald Trump during which around 7,500 attendees were not required to social distance or wear masks.
Last week, a 60-year-old man with underlying health conditions was the first known person thought to have died with coronavirus having attended the event.