As the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally prepares to roll into South Dakota on Friday, local residents are concerned over the impact it will have on the state’s coronavirus cases.
South Dakota, which has avoided lockdowns since the coronavirus pandemic started, has seen a recent rise in positive cases and now with a crowd that in past years has topped 250,000 people ready to descend on the city, concerns over the outbreak are starting to increase.
The city of Sturgis, which has a population of about 7,000 people, weighed whether to hold the rally, with residents split as they worried the event could trigger a serious outbreak of the virus in the area.
“This is a huge, foolish mistake to make to host the rally this year,” Sturgis resident Lynelle Chapman told city counselors at a June meeting. “The government of Sturgis needs to care most for its citizens.”
In a survey conducted by the city, more than 62.9% of residents said the rally should be postponed, the Rapid City Journal reported. But businesses looking to recoup losses from the pandemic reportedly pressured the City Council to move forward. The city, which is not the sole owner of the rally, was threatened with a lawsuit if it postponed the event, the news outlet said.
The city made the decision to move forward in an 8-1 vote during a meeting July 13, deciding among four options to hold the rally while still keeping residents safe, city manager Daniel Ainslie said.
Under the decision, Mayor Mark Carstensen can still “cease any portion of the city of Sturgis Motorcycle Rally preparations, causing an undue health burden and take alternate actions,” with written documentation from local health officials, the South Dakota Department of Health, the governor’s office, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or other agencies, the Rapid City Journal reported.
As much as $105,000 in advertising for the event will be canceled as well as the use of fairgrounds, the B-1 flyover photo towers, and opening ceremonies, with guidelines also to be set for social distancing and sanitizing for vendors, the report indicated.
“The 80th would be greatly modified, it would not be what was planned six months to a year ago,” Ainslie said. “It would be as safe as possible in city limits and what’s in city control.”
Ainslie also said mass coronavirus testing is being looked into for the city following the rally, but it is not a guarantee.
The rally could bring even more people than in past years.
“It’s the biggest single event that’s going on in the United States that didn’t get canceled. A lot of people think it’s going to be bigger than ever,” Rod Woodruff, owner of the Buffalo Chip, the largest campground and concert venue in Sturgis, told the Rapid City Journal.
Woodruff had planned to host his own rally if the city declined to hold the event.
The rally could be the largest and only widescale event that takes place during the pandemic. The 80-year-old rally has had a significant economic impact on the area, bringing in $800 million in past years, South Dakota’s Department of Tourism said.
South Dakota has 9,020 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 135 COVID-19 deaths, the South Dakota Department of Health said.