Over 250,000 Expected to Attend South Dakota Motorcycle Rally Despite Fears of Coronavirus Outbreak

Thousands have already arrived for the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally despite coronavirus fears

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
Motorcyclists arrive in Sturgis, South Dakota, ahead of the start of the annual event . Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Although many large gatherings around the country have been pushed back amid the coronavirus pandemic out of concern for public safety, the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is continuing on schedule — despite the risk of spreading the deadly virus.

Thousands of cyclists began arriving in Sturgis, South Dakota, on Friday, many of whom were not seen wearing masks — which visitors are not being required to wear. Less than 10 people were seen wearing masks on Friday, according to the Associated Press, which had a reporter on the scene.

At the rally, a shirt was also being sold that read “Screw COVID I went to Sturgis,” the outlet reported.

A total of 250,000 visitors are expected to attend the annual 10-day event, which typically attracts crowds of 500,000, according to ABC News.

Rod Woodruff, who operates a campground and concert venue outside the city, told USA Today that despite the official estimate, many believe that this year’s festival, which is already on track to be the largest gathering in the country since the pandemic began, is “going to be bigger than ever.”

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
Visitors attending a concert in Sturgis on Friday. Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images
Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
A woman watching a band perform at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

The festival is also largely being held against the wishes of the town’s residents.

In a recent city survey, over 60 percent of Sturgis residents said they would rather the rally be postponed, but the city decided to go ahead with the event — which generates millions for the town —making a number of modifications with safety in mind.

“In addition to the normal cleaning efforts, nightly sanitization of sidewalk areas will take place in the downtown area,” the city wrote in a press release, noting the continuance of the city’s Good Deeds program, which provides a free contactless delivery service for residents with pre-existing conditions or health concerns.

Additionally, the city has canceled a number of events, including parades and concerts, which they hope will reduce crowding in the city’s downtown hub. Mayor Mark Carstensen also told CNN that the city will be setting up sanitation stations and providing masks.

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Although there have only been at least 91 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 1 death in Meade County, where Sturgis is located, cases are on the rise in South Dakota, and there are concerns about the potential impact of an influx of people, some of whom may be arriving from hot spots.

"You're just adding fuel to a fire," epidemiologist Dr. John Brownstein told ABC News. "South Dakota is already experiencing increases in transmission. COVID is not under control in South Dakota; it's just not."

Brownstein also noted that another area of concern was that infected attendees could spread the virus once arriving back home.

However, Gov. Kristi Noem has seemed unconcerned about the risk, saying that South Dakota is “in a good spot.”

"I trusted my people, they trusted me, and South Dakota is in a good spot in our fight against COVID-19,” Gov. Noem tweeted on Thursday. “The #Sturgis motorcycle rally starts this weekend, and we're excited for visitors to see what our great state has to offer!"

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Stephen Groves/AP/Shutterstock

Visitors have also expressed nonchalance about the threat of being sickened by the virus. “I don’t know anyone who’s had it,” Bruce Labsa, 66, told The New York Times after arriving on Friday without a mask.

“I don’t want to die, but I don’t want to be cooped up all my life either,” Stephen Sample, 66, who drove from Arizona, told the Associated Press, noting that he planned on trying to avoid crowded bars.

“This is a major experiment,” Sample added. “It could be a major mistake.”

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