August 10, 2020 -- The 80th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally could draw as many as 250,000 people for the 10-day event in South Dakota, prompting worries about a “super spreader” event for coronavirus outbreaks, according to the Associated Press.
Thousands of bikers arrived in Sturgis on Friday, the news service reported. The rally could become one of the largest crowd gatherings so far during the pandemic.
South Dakota doesn’t have limits on indoor crowds or a mask mandate. In crowds of people who traveled from states across the country, few were wearing masks, the AP reported.
“Screw COVID. I went to Sturgis,” reads a T-shirt design being sold at the rally.
Some attendees are reveling in the freedom of being out of their homes and not wearing masks. Others who are concerned about contracting COVID-19 told the AP that they’re avoiding indoor venues and bars where the risk of infection is greater.
In a survey taken by the city in May, 60% of Sturgis residents said they would prefer to cancel the event, according to ABC News. However, local business owners said they rely on the annual gathering, and city officials realized that bikers would travel to the area anyway, so they allowed the event.
“We spend the whole year getting ready to host the motorcycle rally and music festival,” Rod Woodruff, owner of a campground and concert venue where bikers stay, told the news outlet. “Without it, we wouldn’t have a business.”
Some bars and restaurants have spaced out their indoor tables and stocked up on hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies. Employees are wearing masks, the news station reported, but some have said they’ve been harassed for wearing them.
The town has taken some measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus by canceling parades, events and contests. The event typically draws 500,000 people each year.
Residents who don’t want to leave their homes next week can call city volunteers to deliver food and supplies, the news station reported. The town also has plans to offer mass testing to its 7,000 residents after the event wraps next weekend.
“South Dakota is fairly conservative, very independent,” Christine Paige Diers, former director of the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum, told ABC. “The same could be said for the motorcyclists. They’re an independent lot. They don’t want you telling them what you can and can’t do.”
South Dakota has reported 9,477 coronavirus cases and 146 deaths, according to the South Dakota Department of Health. Meade County, where Sturgis is located, has reported 91 cases and one death.