Seven cases in the Panhandle have been tied back to the Sturgis motorcyle rally, Panhandle health officials said Thursday.
On Wednesday, Panhandle Public Health District announced that cases have been tied to the rally and identified a community exposure site. Health officials provided updated totals on those cases during Thursday’s daily briefing.
“They are scattered throughout the Panhandle,” Panhandle Public Health Director Kim Engel said.
Engel said that through contact investigations, Sturgis has been identified as the point of exposure for those Panhandle cases.
Asked if the cases involved persons who were traveling through the area, officials said local health officials only investigate cases involving persons in the Panhandle, not persons who are traveling through the area.
“These are actually people who live in our Panhandle Public Health District area and that we have investigated, who went to Sturgis, and that was the point of exposure,” Paulette Schnell, Scotts Bluff County Health director, said.
Even before the 10-day rally began, health officials and others were concerned about the large event and the possibility it would be a “superspreader” event, both because of the size and because of concerns about social distancing, a lack of masks and other preventative measures.
More than 460,000 people attended the rally, with attendance down only 7.5% from last year and higher than state or local officials expected
“That gathering was the largest gathering that occurred in the world since the pandemic began,” Engel said. “It was a pretty significant event.”
Sturgis community health providers had even set up testing opportunities for the community in the weeks following Sturgis anticipating COVID-19 cases, according to Associated Press and Rapid City Journal stories. Sturgis is planning a mass testing of its residents next week.
According to an Associated Press story, South Dakota has seen an increase of 43% in its cases. Over the past two weeks, the average number of daily new cases increased by 32 and on Thursday, 125 new cases were announced. South Dakota Department of Health officials have now issued public warnings for two Sturgis locations — a bar and a tattoo parlor. A third location with ties to the rally has also been announced as a possible exposure site.
On Thursday, state health officials identified an employee at the Asylum Tattoo Sturgis, 1304 Main St., as having tested positive. The employee worked from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, Aug. 13-Aug. 18. On Wednesday, One-Eyed Jack’s Saloon, 1304 Main St., had been identified as a community exposure site after a patron tested positive and visited the bar, Aug. 11, noon to 5:30 p.m. A bar in Hill City, Bumpin’ Buffalo Bar and Grill, had been identified last week as having an employee, who worked Aug. 9-Aug. 11, 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., as having tested positive. The bar near Rushmore is said to be a popular stop for motorcycle riders along U.S. Highway 385.
Health officials have encouraged people who did attend Sturgis to monitor for symptoms for two weeks and to exercise preventative health measures like wearing a mask, washing and sanitizing their hands and to practice social distancing.
Testing in the Panhandle continues to have some delays. Engel said that receiving test results is averaging 3.7 days. The delay in testing does impact contact tracing investigations, which are done to determine where a person likely contracted the virus and additional persons who may have been exposed.
“We don’t really start the investigation until (a case) is confirmed,” she said. “So, the quicker the test results, the more effective those strategies are.
When persons are tested, they are advised to isolate until test results are received, especially if they are experiencing symptoms. Through that, Schnell said, employers are often notified, with persons asked not to work and prevent the spread of the virus, and close contacts may have also been notified to consider testing. Notifying close contacts is not required when a person tests, but will be done as part of the contract tracing investigation if a person tests positive. Close contacts of a person who has tested positive for the coronavirus are required to stay home for 14 days.
Eight cases were announced during Thursday’s briefing. One community spread case in Dawes County involving a child 19 and under was announced. Among adults, two community spread cases in Dawes County; two close contact cases in Dawes County; two close contact cases in Scotts Bluff County; and one case in Scotts Bluff County in which the investigation was still underway. More detailed data is available on the pphd.org website.
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