In the wake of an August superspreader event that may have led to more than 250,000 cases of COVID-19, South Dakota is holding yet another potential superspreader event next month ― and this one is co-sponsored by a nonprofit health care company.
Sanford Health, based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is presenting the inaugural Governor Noem’s Sportsmen’s Showcase and Concert, which a state government press release describes as an indoor “family-friendly trade show specializing in all things outdoors, including hunting, fishing, recreation and more.”
The trade show, to be held at the Sioux Falls Convention Center & Arena at the end of October, could bring together nearly 100 exhibitors. There will also be a concert by country singer Chris Young, which is specifically sponsored by Sanford Health.
“This event is all about showcasing everything our great state has to offer to help drive continued economic growth,” said Paul Hanson, president and CEO of Sanford Health, Sioux Falls region, in the press release. “We’re honored to play a role in supporting this longstanding South Dakota tradition.”
Nowhere on the site for the Sportsmen’s Showcase and concert does it indicate that there is a pandemic going on or that provisions have been put in place for attendees to protect themselves. The concert is expected to draw about 5,000 people, per The Daily Beast.
The move is particularly odd for Young, who previously canceled a string of tour dates this summer because of the pandemic. It’s unclear why he chose to go forward with this particular concert.
Representatives for Young, the Sportsmen’s Showcase media team, and Sanford Health did not respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment on what, if anything, the event will be doing in response to the pandemic.
The trade show and concert are happening on the heels of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, an annual 10-day event held last month that brought an estimated 460,000 people to South Dakota. The rally may have been ground zero for as many as 266,000 coronavirus cases, per a working paper published by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics.
“The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally represents a situation where many of the ‘worst-case scenarios’ for super-spreading occurred simultaneously,” four economists wrote, “the event was prolonged, included individuals packed closely together, involved a large out-of-town population, and had low compliance with recommended infection countermeasures such as the use of masks.”
That event was sponsored by South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who is also co-sponsoring next month’s event. Noem’s statement on the Sportsmen’s Showcase website says it will provide “an opportunity to highlight the outdoor recreation industry in the state of South Dakota.”
“I encourage all South Dakotans to come check out the show in celebration of what this state has to offer,” she says.
Noem’s communications director, Ian Fury, told HuffPost that the aforementioned working paper was “fake news” and “built on faulty assumptions and has been called into question by numerous data scientists.”
“It wasn’t peer-reviewed, wasn’t conducted by health experts, and doesn’t track with the data here in South Dakota,” he said via email, before adding that the governor “has provided South Dakotans with up-to-date science, facts, and data and trusted them to use that information to make the best decisions for themselves and their loved-ones.”
Fury said Noem is “continuing that approach as it pertains to this event.”
“We’ve remained focused on our hospitalization rate; we’re encouraged by the fact that only 5% of our ICU beds are currently occupied by COVID patients,” he said, referring people to covid.sd.gov for specific data.
When pressed on what coronavirus prevention measures would be implemented at the trade show and concert, Fury did not respond.
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