South Dakota’s coronavirus rate is currently low, but trending up somewhat. That upward trend is likely to get a jump-start as the 10-day Sturgis Motorcycle Rally begins Friday. The annual event is expected to draw about 250,000 people to a community of 7,000, and while riding a motorcycle around outside is a very low-risk activity, that’s not all people do. Local bars generally do a good business, for instance—the 7,000 residents of Sturgis are not the reason the self-proclaimed world’s largest biker bar is located there.
A survey found 60% of Sturgis residents want the rally canceled, but all 60% of them are out of luck, because that’s not how the governments of Sturgis or of South Dakota roll. Gov. Kristi Noem, who has been especially contemptuous of safety precautions like masks during the pandemic, said “We hope people come,” and Mayor Mark Carstensen said “We cannot stop people from coming.”
Sturgis officials have scaled back the city’s participation in the event, but concluded they couldn’t stop some version of it from happening, perhaps hosted by businesses outside of the city limits. So the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally goes on in some form. Officials are instead stressing personal responsibility. To 250,000 people who have come for a 10-day festival in the middle of a pandemic. That ship has sailed.
Residents have been vocal about their fears. “This is a huge, foolish mistake to make to host the rally this year,” one woman told the city council. “The government of Sturgis needs to care most for its citizens.”
”My grandma is absolutely terrified because she has diabetes and is in her 80s and has lupus,” another local told CNN. “If she gets it, it’s a death sentence.”
But the fears of residents apparently cannot stop potentially hundreds of thousands of people, many of them from hot spots, from rolling into town for some fun. And their governor thinks it’s all just great, because those potential virus vectors will be spending money.