State Watch

Thousands of bikers pour into South Dakota for motorcycle rally

Thousands of bikers are rolling into South Dakota this weekend for a motorcycle rally, perhaps the largest national public gathering since the pandemic started.

Attendees began their arrivals Friday for the 80th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, estimated to have nearly 250,000 bikers out for festivities throughout the 10-day event.

"As in most years, the opening weekend is very busy," Christina Steele, spokeswoman for the city of Sturgis told CNN. "Normally, the number of visitors will likely peak around Wednesday and will then begin to taper off."

Last year, the event drew crowds totaling nearly 500,000 attendees for the annual motorcycle festival. The population of Sturgis is roughly 7,000 people.

Gov. Kristi Noem (R) was supportive of the biker rally in Sturgis, citing the state's relatively low COVID-19 case numbers and last month's July 4 celebration at Mount Rushmore, which health officials say did not result in a virus outbreak after the event, the Associated Press reported.

Still, CNN reported the local hospital system Monument Health added 172 additional beds in preparation for the event and the potential fallout of COVID-19 cases.

Most rally attendees did not seem distressed over concerns of contracting the virus while at the crowded 10-day event.

Bill Sudkamp, a biker and attendee of the festival, said he was in Sturgis for his 20th consecutive gathering, adding, "I fell in love with the rally. I love the sound of the bikes."

"Screw COVID," one attendee's t-shirt design read. "I went to Sturgis."

Other visitors expressed some caution when asked about the coronavirus's risk, such as 66-year-old Stephen Sample.

"I don't want to die, but I don't want to be cooped up all my life either," he told the AP, adding, "I think we're all willing to take a chance." 

Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease professor at Emory University, told CNN that the rally is not the main concern for COVID-19, but rather what happens after it.

He said the rally's main health risk would be the events that follow, suggesting that people who go out to bars or out to eat afterward could potentially become spreaders of the illness due to close contact with other attendees.

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