COVID “Super-Spreader” Events are Ridiculously Expensive

How the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally generated over $12 billion in public health costs:

“There are some really good estimates out there that suggest that between 10% and 20% of cases are responsible for about 80% of transmission events,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead for the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Program, at a press conference.

Contact-tracing has allowed researchers to map the impacts of these “super-spreader” events, categorized as one person or gathering leads to an unusually high number of new infections. These events could be concerts, weddings, religious services, or massive conventions for motorcycle enthusiasts.

Beyond the dangerous health implications, these are also responsible for huge economic burdens. The National Bureau of Economic Research examined the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, a 9-day long celebration in which nearly 500,000 motorcyclists converged in South Dakota last month.

Using anonymized cell phone data, researchers documented smartphone pings from residents and non-residents as well as foot traffic at local businesses. Researchers found stay-at-home behavior among local residents fell while traffic in hotels, restaurants, and stores increased. A month later, the CDC confirmed an statistically significant increase of 7-13% in COVID cases in Sturgis.

NBER reports, “If we conservatively assume that all of these cases were non-fatal, then these cases represent a cost of about $12.2 billion, based on the statistical cost of a COVID-19 case of $46,000 estimated by Kniesner and Sullivan (2020). This is enough to have paid each of the estimated 462,182 rally attendees $26,553.64 not to attend.”

Whatever your political or scientific opinions may be able how COVID has been handled in the United States, I hope we can all agree we should do everything we can to mitigate both the virological and economic suffering associated with this pandemic.

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