Although most of the big events were closed last summer due to the coronavirus pandemic, Introducing the Sturgis Motorcycle RallyIt sparked panic among health experts as nearly half a million motorcycle enthusiasts disembarked in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
This year’s rally, which began on Friday, is expected to attract a larger crowd, just as the infectious delta variant is producing more new virus cases nationwide than this time last year.
What path the virus will take through Sturgis remains to be seen.
Moving outdoors is more difficult, vaccinations significantly reduce the risk of serious disease, and South Dakota has the fewest new virus cases per capita in the United States. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers deltas as contagious as chickenpox, and people from all over the country travel — several the South States They are at the worst of an epidemic outbreak – in an area with a relatively low vaccination rate.
Hundreds of new cases have been linked to last year’s demonstrationHowever, as infected cyclists have returned to their home countries, it has made tracing contacts difficult and obscuring the true number.
Sturgis officials have confirmed that this year’s rally will offer free coronavirus tests, masks and hand sanitizing stations. For the first time, attendees will be allowed to carry alcoholic beverages outside without fear of being fined, in an effort to reduce crowds inside bars.
These precautions are accompanied by warnings.
“We encourage people who are in a high-risk category, whether it’s age or comorbidities, to come next year,” said Dan Ainsley, city manager for Sturgis.
On Friday, the constant roar of the engines signaled the arrival of thousands of motorcyclists. By midday, Main Street was packed with people, walking shoulder-to-shoulder on the sidewalks or congregating near the dozens of bikes parked outside businesses. The 10-day race parade began, in its 81st year, led by Budweiser Clydesdale horses.
Local business owner Tony Fisher, 63, has been anxiously watching the growing crowds of people flocking to her hometown for the past week. Although she and her husband have been vaccinated, Ms. Fisher suffers from fibromyalgia and said she had been concerned about the chances of a breakthrough infection that could affect her health for months.
Whatever minimal precautions people have taken in the past year, she said, they’ve sloughed off like a lot of motorcycle exhaust. “This year it’s a wild boar,” she said. “No one cares.”
The pandemic has devastated Ms Fisher’s massage business, but she said she was not sure if she would offer massage services during the rally. She has a few disguised dates on the schedule, and she and her husband once again host campers in their yard. Her husband plans to serve pizza for extra money during the rally – adding to Ms. Fisher’s concerns.
She has resumed wearing face masks when she goes to the supermarket, but says she is practically alone in taking any precautions, even as the Delta variant is causing an increase in infections across the country.
“I don’t know what to do here,” she said.
Other big outdoor events are back this summer, in part because of the availability of vaccines. Attendees at the recent Lollapalooza Music Festival, which People packed in downtown ChicagoEither provide evidence of vaccination or show a negative coronavirus test from the previous 72 hours.
The Sturgis motorcycle rally will not have a similar screening process. Vaccines will be made available at the event, including a single dose of Johnson & Johnson, but it takes time to strengthen the immune system.
Mead County, which includes Sturgis, has a 37 percent vaccination rate — well below the vaccination rate Half of Americans who are fully vaccinated The six neighboring counties have lower vaccination rates.
Dr. Shankar Kura, vice president for medical affairs at Monument Health, based in Rapid City, SD, said there were almost no cases of the virus in the area at the end of June. But like every other state, cases have risen in recent weeks.
“For us, 100 per cent of the cases were of people who were not immunized,” Dr. Cora said of the recent increase in the number of cases. “We want to make sure that people have access to testing even if there is an outbreak that we can catch up early.”
About a week before the rally began, motorcyclists from across the country began congregating at hotels in Rapid City, said Stephen Allender, the city’s mayor. Mr Allender said he has been in touch with local health officials about how best to prepare for the influx of visitors, but his office has stopped trying to impose any restrictions on the event.
“The government tried to help save lives but failed due to the political climate and the controversy” over the use of masks, Mr Allender said. “I would say today that there is no stopping it, that communities across the state have taken every man’s stand for themselves.”
Late last year, Mr. Allender issued a mandate for masks in all city buildings and urged the city council to pass a broader law requiring masks – a measure that ultimately failed. South Dakota was among several states that did not put in place a lockout or mandatory mask requirement during the height of the pandemic.
Most of the year, Sturgis is a relatively quiet town of about 7,000 residents set next to a 1.2 million-acre forest, with a Motorcycle Museum as its distinguishing feature. But every summer, the city transforms as cyclists descend. Last year, when the pandemic upended everyday life in America and forced the cancellation of music festivals and other large gatherings, more than 60 percent of Sturgis residents preferred to postpone motorcycle racing, according to a city-sponsored survey. But this year, there were few public concerns.
The state Department of Tourism has estimated that the annual festival, with big-name sponsors this year, including Budweiser, Harley-Davidson and Coca-Cola, is generating around $800 million in revenue. It’s a fascinating sight: When riders from all over the United States and Canada, at least in typical years, make the pilgrimage to Sturgis, the quiet stretch of Interstate 90 is crowded with motorcycles.
“The Sturgis Journey is all about hopping on your bike and exploring this great country through our open roads,” Gov. Kristi Noem said in a statement. “Drivers come here because they want to be here. And we love to see them! There is risk associated with everything we do in life. Drivers get that better than anyone else.”
Jack Healy Contribute to the preparation of reports.