Sturgis Made COVID Preparations but Still Wasn’t Ready for the Bike Rally

Although Sturgis, South Dakota made many COVID-19 Preparations it still wasn’t ready for the 80th Sturgis Bike Rally as it drew thousands as it does every year. As thousands of bikers poured into the small South Dakota city of Sturgis on Friday the 80th Sturgis Bike Rally rumbled to life. Bikers rumbled past hundreds of tents filled with motorcycle gear, T-shirts, and food. Harley Davidson motorcycles were everywhere but masks were almost nowhere to be seen. AMERiders Give you the low down.

The 80th Sturgis Bike Rally could become one of the largest public gatherings since the pandemic began, with organizers expecting 250,000 people from all over the country to make their way through Sturgis during the 10-day event. That would be roughly half the number of previous years, but local residents — and a few bikers — worry that the crowds could create a “super-spreader” event.

Many who rode their bikes into Sturgis on Friday expressed defiance at the rules and restrictions that have marked life in many locales during the pandemic. People rode from across the country to a state that offered a reprieve from coronavirus restrictions, as South Dakota has no special limits on indoor crowds, no mask mandates and a governor who is eager to welcome visitors and the money they bring.

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Thousands of bikers rode through the streets for the opening day of the 80th annual Sturgis Motorcycle rally Friday, Aug. 7, 2020, in Sturgis, S.D. (Stephen Groves/AP)

“Screw COVID,” read the design on one T-shirt being hawked. “I went to Sturgis.”

Bikers rumbled past hundreds of tents filled with motorcycle gear, T-shirts, and food. H-D motorcycles were everywhere but masks were a different story, with 1 AP reporter counting seeing fewer than 10 masks in thousands of bikers over a period of several hours.

Bob Graham, 71, was one of the few people wearing masks as he walked along Main Street. “We don’t want the virus. We want to come up here a few more years yet,” Graham said.

Graham made his 36th annual trip to Sturgis from Central City, Nebraska, with his wife, calling it “kind of like our therapy for the year.”

For Stephen Sample, who rode his Harley from Arizona, the event was a break from the routine of the last several months, when he’s been mostly homebound or wearing a mask when he went to work as a surveyor.

For Stephen Sample, who rode his Harley from Arizona, the event was a break from the routine of the last several months, when he’s been mostly homebound or wearing a mask when he went to work as a surveyor.

“I don’t want to die, but I don’t want to be cooped up all my life either,” he said.

Still, Sample, who is 66, feared what could happen if he caught COVID-19 at the rally. He said he was trying to avoid indoor bars and venues, where he felt the risk of infection was greater. But on the opening day of the rally, he said he ate breakfast at an indoor diner.

As Sample weighed the risks of navigating the crowds, the same thrill-seeking that attracted him to riding motorcycles seemed to win out.

“This is a major experiment,” he said. “It could be a major mistake.”

bike rally
Thousands of bikers rode through the streets for the opening day of the 80th annual Sturgis Motorcycle rally Friday, Aug. 7, 2020, in Sturgis, S.D. Many at the rally defied coronavirus precautions like wearing face masks or social distancing. (AP Photo/Stephen Groves) (Stephen Groves/AP)

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has taken a largely hands-off approach to the pandemic, avoiding a mask mandate and preaching personal responsibility. She supported holding the Sturgis rally, pointing out that no virus outbreak was documented from the several thousand people who turned out to see President Donald Trump and fireworks at Mount Rushmore last month.

Daily virus cases have been trending upward in South Dakota, but the seven-day average is still only around 84, with fewer than two deaths per day.

Marsha Schmid, who owns the Side Hack Saloon in Sturgis, was trying to keep her bar and restaurant from becoming a virus hot spot by spacing out indoor tables and offering plenty of hand sanitizer.

She also scaled back the number of bands hired for the rally, hoping the crowds would stay thin but still spend the cash that keeps her business viable for the rest of the year.

“You’ve got people coming from all over the world,” she said. “I just hope they are being responsible and if they don’t feel good, they stay away.”

~Live Free Ride Hard~

~AMERiders~

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