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Another big event starts up in South Dakota as infections from Sturgis motorcycle rally rise

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(STURGIS, S.D.) — Pandemic or no pandemic, the show will go on in South Dakota.

The South Dakota State Fair opens Thursday and will run through Sept. 7. While it’s not clear how many people plan to attend this year’s event, more than 200,000 people visited the fair last year, according to the state’s department of agriculture.

Fair organizers have implemented health and safety measures, such as hand washing stations and social distancing requirements, at the five-day event, but assume no responsibility should guests become infected with COVID-19.

“Exposure to COVID-19 is an inherent risk in any public location where people are present,” according to the fair website. “By visiting the South Dakota State Fairgrounds, you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19.”

The state fair comes on the heels of last month’s Sturgis motorcycle rally, which was attended by hundreds of thousands of people. At least 290 people in 12 states who attended the rally have tested positive for COVID-19, according to The Associated Press. A man from Minnesota who attended the rally has died.

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem supported holding the rally in her state. “We are not — and WILL not — be the subjects of an elite class of so-called experts,” she tweeted in August. “We the People are the government.”

A patron who visited multiple bars in Sturgis, as well as a tattoo shop employee, tested positive for COVID-19, according to the South Dakota Health Department.

On Aug. 7, the opening day of the rally, South Dakota had roughly 9,000 COVID-19 cases, according to the health department. By Sept. 3, positive cases had risen to 14,000. The state’s positivity rate also rose, from 6% for the 14 days before Aug. 7, to 15% for the 14 days before Sept. 3.

A high positivity rate can be a sign that a state is only testing its sickest patients and failing to cast a net wide enough to accurately capture community transmission, according to Johns Hopkins University. The World Health Organization recommends that governments get their positivity testing threshold below 5%.

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