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UPDATE September 10, 2020:
Scrutiny, then disagreement of methodology and then harsh criticism of the academic modelers from San Diego State University’s Center for Health Economics & Policy Studies arrived quickly after they published their findings in a 63-page report. The researchers sought to quantify the Sturgis Rally COVID-19 impact in South Dakota and nationwide by analyzing the (anonymous) cell-phone data of attendees.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said the study was “fiction,” and criticized journalists who reported on it.  “Under the guise of academic research, this report is nothing short of an attack on those who exercised their personal freedom to attend Sturgis,” Noem said in the statement. “Predictably, some in the media breathlessly report on this non-peer reviewed model, built on incredibly faulty assumptions that do not reflect the actual facts and data here in South Dakota.”

Media References:
USA Today
WSJ (paywall)

The Associated Press as of last week identified 290 cases from 12 states tied to the rally. Instead of looking at contact tracing and trying to identify specific people who had the disease and passed it onto others, the San Diego researchers looked at the areas that sent the most people to the rally and how case trends changed after the event.

*****

A scientific “Discussion Paper” (dp13670) was recently released referencing preliminary work, which documents the spread of COVID-19 due to a mass gathering conducted during a pandemic against the guidance of the CDC.

The document explicitly refers to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and how a single superspreading event can be leveraged to impose restrictions on future mass gatherings.

Discussion Paper Highlights:

  • The per 1,000 case rate increased by 10.7 percent after 24 days following the onset of Sturgis Pre-Rally Events.
  • A total of 263,708 additional cases due to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
    These cases represent a cost of over $12.2 billion, based on the statistical cost of a COVID-19 case of $46,000 estimated by Kniesner and Sullivan (2020).
  • The cost is enough to have paid each of the estimated 462,182 rally attendees $26,553.64 not to attend.

The document concludes that the spread of the virus due to the Sturgis Rally was large. The authors provide descriptive evidence and suggest stricter mitigation policies to limit exposure due to the behavior of non-compliant events and those who travel to them.

Photo courtesy of IZA Institute of Labor Economics Document.

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