Health officials are still warning against even small gatherings, and states with relatively low spread of the coronavirus are ordering visitors from hot spots to self-quarantine.
That didn’t stop hordes of bikers streaming into Sturgis, S.D., Friday and Saturday at one among the world’s biggest annual motorcycle rallies — the primary of 250,000 people from across the country expected to descend on South Dakota’s rural Black Hills. They rumbled through the streets and crowded the sidewalks, often without masks, for the beginning of a 10-day extravaganza so deeply rooted that Sturgis calls itself the town of Riders.
“I don’t want to die, but I don’t want to be cooped up all my life either,” 66-year-old Stephen Sample told the Associated Press, explaining that he’d driven his Harley up from Arizona. He worries about getting coronavirus, he said, and was trying to steer beyond bars but ate breakfast that morning inside a diner.
Like Sample, many bikers are from the older population most susceptible to covid-19. Like Sample, many hail from the summer’s major viral hotspots. And like Sample, they’ve heard the warnings but decided the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is well worth the risk.
“This may be a major experiment,” Sample told the AP. “It might be a serious mistake.”
As the massive rally approached in the week , the mayor of Sturgis said there wasn’t much to try to to but encourage “personal responsibility,” found out sanitation stations and provides out masks, though they’re not required.
“We cannot stop people from coming,” Mayor Mark Carstensen said Thursday on CNN.
Worried residents, however, say officials should have delayed or canceled what could go down together of the most important pandemic-era gatherings within the country, during a state where Republican Gov. Kristi L. Noem resisted stay-at-home orders and mask rules — and last month welcomed another mass event, President Trump’s Fourth of July weekend speech at the foot of Rushmore .
“We need to be here after they leave, and we’re unsure what they’re leaving,” said a resident of Hill City, another Black Hills destination flooded by bikers, who requested anonymity because she said she feared backlash within the small community.
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The decades-long local resident had prepared to hunker down inside, stocking abreast of groceries before the event, she told The Washington Post. The 65-year-old has family she fears might be particularly susceptible to a viral infusion. But on Friday, she drove a few blocks, put her mask on then walked bent Hill City’s main street just to survey the crowds.
“No masks, no social distancing,” she said. “I just wish people would respect the locals a touch bit more.”
A city survey found that quite 60 percent of Sturgis residents wanted the event postponed, the Associated Press reported.
“This may be a huge, foolish mistake to form to host the rally this year,” Sturgis resident Linda Chaplin warned city officials earlier this summer, as a debate raged, consistent with the AP. “The government of Sturgis must care most for its citizens.”
But the spectacle, centered in Sturgis and fanning call at surrounding towns, is hugely important to the local economy, bringing in $1.3 million in city and state tax income last year, consistent with the Argus Leader. A mayor’s letter overviewing Sturgis describes how the town “comes alive” with a half-million visitors during a typical August rally, suddenly transformed into “the largest community within the state” with concerts and races.
On June 15, council members voted 8 to 1 to forge ahead with the 80-year tradition, local news outlet NewsCenter 1 reported, albeit without the standard seating during a plaza.
Speaking to CNN, Carstensen said keeping the rally has been “a difficult decision.”
He noted the town are going to be expanding a program to deliver supplies to the homes of these worried about the virus. But there are not any quarantine recommendations for bikers from hot spot states, the mayor said, and leaders are just “hoping people make the proper choices.” Visitors have already got been flocking to the Black Hills during the pandemic, he said.
Backing up local leaders’ decision is that the governor, who has been disdainful of coronavirus restrictions throughout the pandemic. Noem said earlier in the week on Fox News that her state has successfully held other large gatherings, including Trump’s event at Rushmore .
“We hope people come,” Noem said of the motorcycle rally. “Our economy benefits when people come and visit us.”
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