Coronavirus may change the world, but there aren’t many signs of the pandemic at the mega-annual motorcycle rally taking place this week in a small town along Interstate 90 in West South Dakota.
The scene at the Sturgis 80’s Motorcycle Rally was familiar to the veterans of the event, as crowds of bikers gathered unmasked.
Biker Kevin Lonsman, 63, rode over 600 miles to the rally from Big Lake, Minnesota, with several friends. Lonsmann said he has attended the Sturgis event every year since 2003 and does not want to miss the 80, despite being “somewhat” concerned about the coronavirus.
However, crowds of people and bicycle rows surprised him. He said that there was no difference from previous years “other than a few people wearing masks.”
Lonsmann said he’s been avoiding the bars and nightclubs lining the main city road this year, but many others have not. The revelers filled with sunset on Friday.
“Everyone is still celebrating hard,” said Lonsman.
Organizers expected the total crowd to be smaller, perhaps half the size of a normal year, when about half a million people flock from across the country to a city of about 7,000.
The sheer numbers increase the likelihood that this year’s rally will spread the COVID-19 virus in a state where there are no special restrictions on indoor crowds, no restrictions on masks, and a governor eager to welcome visitors and their money.
‘Screw COVID,’ read the design on one T-shirt thrown at the event. “I went to Sturgis.”
Bob Graham, 71, was one of the few to wear masks as he walked along Main Street. We don’t want the virus. “We want to come here in a few more years,” said Graham.
Graham made his 36th annual trip to Sturgis from Central City, Nebraska, with his wife, and described it as “the kind of therapy we’re giving for this year.”
For Stephen Sample, who rode his Harley from Arizona, the event was a break from the routine of the past several months, when he was mostly staying at home or wearing a mask when he went to work as a surveyor.
Sample was aware that his journey to the march could end in the hospital, which seemed to weigh him down.
“This is a great experience,” he said. “It could be a huge mistake.”
Republican Governor Christie Noem has adopted a largely hands-off approach to the pandemic, avoiding masked delegation and advocating personal responsibility. Supported holding the march.
Daily virus cases are trending higher in South Dakota, but the seven-day average is still around 84, with fewer than two deaths per day.
Sturgis officials are planning to mass-test residents in an effort to spot and stop outbreaks, but the region’s largest hospital system is already burdened with an influx of tourists and bikers who inevitably need hospital care during this time.
Marsha Schmid, who owns Side Hack Salon in Sturgis, was trying to prevent the bar and restaurant from turning into a virus hotspot by spacing the indoor tables and offering plenty of hand sanitizer.
It also reduced the number of orchestras hired for the gathering, hoping the crowds would remain weak but still spending money keeping them running for the rest of the year.
She said, “You have people who come from all over the world.” “I just hope they’re responsible and if they don’t feel good, they walk away.”