City Braces for 250K Bikers

With cases up, residents of South Dakota city split on wisdom of rally
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 2, 2020 10:40 AM CDT
City Braces for 250K Bikers
Bikers ride down Main Street in downtown Sturgis, South Dakota, in August 2016.   (Josh Morgan/Rapid City Journal via AP, File)

Sturgis is on. The message has been broadcast across social media as South Dakota, which has seen an uptick in coronavirus infections in recent weeks, prepares to host hundreds of thousands of bikers for the 80th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. More than 250,000 people are expected to rumble through western South Dakota, the AP reports, seeking the freedom of cruising the boundless landscapes in a state that has skipped lockdowns. The Aug. 7-16 event, which could be the biggest anywhere so far during the pandemic, will offer businesses that depend on the rally a chance to make up for losses caused by the coronavirus. But for many in Sturgis, a city of about 7,000, the brimming bars and bacchanalia will not be welcome during a pandemic. Though only about half the usual number of people are expected this year, residents were split as the city weighed its options. Many worried that the rally would cause an unmanageable outbreak of COVID-19.

"This is a huge, foolish mistake," one resident told a city counselors meeting, adding, "The government of Sturgis needs to care most for its citizens." A city survey found more than 60% of residents want the rally postponed. But businesses pressured the city to proceed. Rallygoers have spent about $800 million in past years, according to the state Department of Tourism. The owner of the Buffalo Chip, a campground and concert venue just outside Sturgis, made clear that he'll hold some version of the rally. Rod Woodruff said he employs hundreds of people in August. “We spend money for 355 days of the year without any return on it, hoping people show up for nine days," he said. "We're a nine-day business." Woodruff said he can pull off a safe event, allowing people to socially distance at his campground. "It's the biggest single event that's going on in the United States that didn't get canceled," he said. The city plans mass coronavirus testing after the event.

(Read more coronavirus stories.)

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