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State Declines to Prevent Coronavirus Spread in Sturgis, Just Waits for Hospitals to Fill Up

As the Sturgis coronavirus experiment begins, concerned Rapid City attorney Dana Hanna finally receives an answer from the state Department of Health to his July questions about what steps the state is taking to protect us from the obvious public health risks of crowding all those noisy touchy-feely people into one small South Dakota town. Hanna wrote to Governor Kristi Noem and Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon on July 17; Secretary Malsam-Rysdon did write back on July 28, but she failed to copy Hanna’s address correctly from his letterhead, so the letter didn’t come to Hanna’s P.O. Box until August 7. (But three cheers to the United States Postal Service for figuring that one out!)

The Secretary of Health emphasizes that the decision to hold an event that endangers public health is not her call:

Sec. Kim Malsam-Rysdon, letter to Dana Hanna, 2020.07.28.
Sec. Kim Malsam-Rysdon, letter to Dana Hanna, 2020.07.28.

Secretary Malsam-Rysdon seems to have a short memory of the state’s authority to override local decisions in response to a public health emergency. In April, Governor Noem suspended counties’ statutory authority to enforce the conditional use permits governing their local hog factories. The Governor’s very first pandemic emergency declaration in March gave her the authority to control the movement of vehicles and persons and the occupancy of premises anywhere in South Dakota. (We are still in a state of emergency, according to the Governor’s July 7 Executive Order 2020-30, until December 30.)

South Dakota’s epidemiologist won’t say it, but Minnesota’s epidemiologist will: Sturgis is a public health nightmare:

My worse nightmare right now — I’m going to get a ton of emails and just horrible phone calls — I am absolutely frightened by the prospects of this week in Sturgis. 275,000 Americans are going to descend on that town. There are going to be a lot of indoor bars. There are going to be an older population relative to young adults, which are going to be put them at much higher risk. They’re going to be there for nine days, which would just guarantee that transmission that occurs at the beginning will only be amplified through the whole time period. And we’re operating as if nothing’s new. I’m promising you right now with all the pain I can say, that come August to early September, Sturgis will have one hell of an imprint on this country [Minnesota state epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm, interviewed by Kerri Miller, MPR News, 2020.08.03].

If the state shared the concerns of Dr. Osterholm, Mr. Hanna, and a majority of Sturgis residents, the state could restrict any or all of the mass gatherings in Sturgis. Instead, South Dakota’s public health officials are simply discussing and recommending actions that businesses can take, if they want, and then planning reactive measures to deal with surges in coronavirus cases that they could prevent.

But prevention means turning away profits and tax dollars. So come on over! Ride into our giant petri dish!


  1. Eve Fisher 2020-08-08

    “Always look on the bright side of life.” No. I don’t think I will.

    Personally, I am sick of the entire focus of this administration (both state and national) on the economy – as if the economy were a separate being, the ONLY living being that matters. And all the dead and dying and sick people struggling for breath at home and in hospitals are in the way of getting the economy back on its feet. But without living breathing people, there is no economy – there’s just death and desolation.

    Basically, the nation – the whole world – is on fire with COVID-19. And while neither Trump nor Noem lit the fire, the GOP have done nothing to put it out, but instead locked the doors and gone off whistling while people bang on the doors and beg for help – and take no responsibility at all. Just keep working, just keep spending, just keep those $$$ coming in.

  2. Buckobear 2020-08-08

    Think of this dep’t: Next week many/most of the bikers will return to whence thy came. They get sick and tested in their state and we don’t get the credit.
    Seems unfair, eh ?

  3. Jake 2020-08-08

    Does it not remind you of one comment George W. Bush made on TV a week or so after the Twin Towers were struck to the American people: “Just go shopping, people!” “It’s the economy, stupid” by Clinton was a Democratic response years earlier. The countries that rose up with their governmental handling of the virus like New Zealand and much of Europe and Scandinavia that put the good of ALL their people AHEAD of the economy have better results. Why???!!!

  4. o 2020-08-08

    I was thinking the same thing, Buckobear, that if our Sturgis guests do get sick, they will be home — not in SD enjoying the hospitality of our hospitals.

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-08-08

    It’s a sick gamble, but yes, we could count on a lot of those Rally coronavirus cases taking up beds and spreading infection back on their home turf. Get their money at the Chip and ship ’em home before they get too sick to party. Plus, they won’t be hanging around too many locals: the smart Sturgisians (Sturgites? Sturgeons?) are doing what they always do: getting out of town. The Rallygoers will cluster in their own outsider crowds, stop briefly at the rest stops along I-90, then focus their exhalations on their family, friends, and co-workers back home.

  6. Buckobear 2020-08-08

    I hope all those who rented out their homes do a thorough sanitization of the premises after the guests vacate. Sturgis could be known here as the gift that keeps on giving.

  7. Debbo 2020-08-08

    I sure hope the stupid Minnesotans who attended quarantine at home for 2 weeks when they return. Of course they won’t because they were dumb enough to attend in the first place. 😡😡😡

  8. mike from iowa 2020-08-08

    Moar milestones set today as drumpf’s body count is like Locomotive Breath……

    Old Charlie stole the handle and
    The train it won’t stop going
    No way to slow down.

    Old Charlie being drumpf of course.

    United States
    Coronavirus Cases:

  9. grudznick 2020-08-08

    Ms. Geelsdottir, word is that Minnesotians with blue motor cycle license lettering are being ejected from the rally and sent home early. They will be spitting angry, and they won’t want to stay home. Please tell your friend to stay in Minnesota. She won’t like it here.

  10. Debbo 2020-08-08

    OMG. John, those are horrible numbers. And Donny Death Dealer doesn’t care. 😡😡😡😡😡

  11. Fast Eddy 2020-08-09

    The state seems to be at the center of natural selection these days. We had races at Husets, the Sioux Empire Fair, and now Sturgis. These events concentrate a lot of fools unable or unwilling to adapt to new conditions and infect them all in one place …like moths to a flame. Now, if they’ll all go home without infecting innocents along the way, the smarter examples of the species will survive and flourish in their absence.

  12. Dar 2020-08-09

    Stupid just stupid. Where’s the money for the “lousy drug”. She is now upTrumpf butt pretty far,
    looking for a new post??
    Fast Eddy l agree no glory for SD
    when they go home.

  13. mike from iowa 2020-08-09

    If only 1% 9f the visito…er…. fools at Sturgis get covid that is 2500 and South Dakota probably doesn’t have anywhere near that many hospital beds.

    drumpf is personally responsible for the aftermath of 55 WTC terrorist attacks.

  14. jerry 2020-08-09

    Don’t forget Belle Fourche and the 4th of July do’ins there. 4 days of exposure with the predictable results.

  15. Eve Fisher 2020-08-09

    John – that’s a fantastic article. Sharing it widely.

  16. Stanford M Adelstein 2020-08-12

    Noem has invited and urged bikers to come to Sturgis. Just as refusal to honor Sioux Falls Mayor for a shut down when there were less than 100 cases due to the meat plant – she has urged an even larger attendance, and the consequential high covid positives and deaths.

    Though hard to measure, how many deaths has this person brought about by her blind obedience to Trump?

    In South Dakota, Indian tribes have placed checkpoints on all highways that cross their reservation borders to prevent any noncommercial or non tribal member’s vehicles from entering. This was done as a prevention of exposure to covirus-19.

    Governor Kristi Noem has tried, without success, to force their removal by the Federal Government.

    She is the only Governor of South Dakota ever to be banned from a reservation – unrelated to the Pandemic – but this further demonstrates her bigotry by putting, inappropriately, on the State Health page detailed listing of her futile negative efforts to prevent indigenous citizens to protect themselves from the virus”

    Logical placement on Department of Transportation maybe “Safe Travel USA. But to have this be the only item on a web site urging safety and prevention proves her uncaring opposition to the protection of Indian South Dakotans.

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