Fauci: These people going to Sturgis should really reconsider

People are dunking on him today for singling out an event associated with red-state culture for criticism while biting his tongue about blue-state mass gatherings like Obama’s birthday party and the recent Lollapalooza festival in Chicago. It’s reminiscent of last summer, when epidemiologists asked Americans to hunker down to prevent the spread of the virus at all costs … unless they were gathering with 100,000 people to protest racism, in which case that was super-important and fine.

Is Sturgis really an apples-to-apples comparison with Lollapalooza and Obama’s party, though?

Either way, I sit here amazed that we’re in month 18 of the pandemic and neither the White House nor the media will accept that Fauci can’t effectively communicate with the right anymore.

Sturgis is a problem but Lollapalooza wasn’t? Is that Fauci’s view?

Not exactly. He did criticize Lollapalooza — mildly, and after the fact:

Last weekend, almost 400,000 people went to a Lollapalooza concert. It was outdoors and people needed to show proof of vaccination but “I was a bit taken aback by the film clips that I saw,” he told Couric. “There were a lot of people crowded around together, and given the fact that we know that vaccinated people can spread infection, and even though we know that outdoors is always safer than indoors, there was a really lot of crowded that we saw in those films. So I got a little bit concerned about that myself. I’m pretty risk averse. So I would, even though I’m vaccinated, I don’t think I would go to a really massively crowded place where you’re essentially face-to-face with somebody. I would be concerned about that.”

There’s a meaningful difference between the concert and Obama’s party on the one hand and Sturgis on the other, though. To get into the first two, you were supposed to provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test. (My understanding is that Obama’s party required proof of both.) “On Thursday ninety percent of concertgoers showed proof of vaccination, eight percent brought negative COVID tests, six hundred people without paperwork were turned away,” CBS reported of Lollapalooza last week. The head of Chicago’s public health department said she was okay with the concert going ahead because organizers had gone “above and beyond” in taking precautions, including making sure staff were vaccinated and tested.

Sturgis is a different kind of gathering. There’s no “venue” to which admission can be restricted based on vaccination or test status. Motorcyclists show up in the town to party. Some will have gotten their shots, some won’t have. Locals are doing what they can to limit transmission, including offering tests, free masks, hand sanitizer, and a bending of the rules that’ll let people drink outside in order to limit indoor transmission. But there’s every reason to believe that large numbers of vaxxed and unvaxxed will be mingling, and not always outdoors. (There’s no such thing as a completely outdoor gathering unless attendees are using an open-air toilet too.) And it’s anyone’s guess whether the Sturgis crowd will be in the mood to take voluntary precautions:

A local business owner, Toni Fisher, 63, had been anxiously watching as growing crowds of people streamed into her hometown over the past week. Although she and her husband are both vaccinated, Ms. Fisher has fibromyalgia and said she was worried about the chances of contracting a breakthrough infection that could affect her health for months.

Whatever minimal precautions people took last year have drifted away like so much motorcycle exhaust, she said. “This year it’s hog-wild,” she said. “Nobody cares.”

Meade County, which includes Sturgis, has a 37 percent vaccination rate — significantly lower than the half of Americans who are fully vaccinated — and the six counties that border it have even lower vaccination rates.

There’s no screening process at Sturgis to see who’s been vaccinated and who hasn’t. The good news is that South Dakota is doing very well with COVID at the moment, although that might be because, uh, everyone there caught the virus last year. They may have actual herd immunity at this point after having suffered one of the worst outbreaks on Earth in 2020. The bad news is that most attendees are from out of state and will bring whatever they pick up in Sturgis back home with them. A CDC study published last November linked 51 cases in Minnesota to the 2020 Sturgis gathering; those 51 people collectively infected another 35 close associates afterward. (Some blame the rampant spread of COVID in the Dakotas last fall on Sturgis but that claim is hotly disputed.) Given how much more contagious Delta is than the original virus plus the fact that few precautions are being taken to limit transmission at the festival, God only knows how many infections and secondary infections will come out of this year’s gathering.

In the meantime, we need a uniform take on whether crowded events should be held in the post-Delta era. There are three possibilities:

1. No more crowds. It’s too risky. Let’s get back to the 2020 paradigm where concerts are canceled, parties are postponed indefinitely, and sports are played in empty arenas.

2. Anything goes. Forget precautions. Half the country’s vaxxed and everyone’s tired of pandemic restrictions so let’s go nuts as super-COVID rampages across the country.

3. Crowds plus precautions. Let people gather but require vaccine passports and/or masking, negative tests, distance, etc, to limit infections.

Number three seems like the prudent compromise between Delta and normalcy. That’s the model Obama’s party and Lollapalooza followed. Sturgis is really more the second model. It’s not nuts for Fauci to consider it more of a risk than the other two.

I’ll leave you with Dr. Catherine O’Neal of Baton Rouge, whom you may remember from this post last week. For my money, she’s a vastly better communicator than Fauci. The feds should give her a shot as their TV spokesman.