The city of Sturgis, South Dakota, is preparing to welcome 250,000 bikers for its annual motorcycle rally this week, a figure that has sparked concern in the time of COVID-19.
While the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which is marking its 80th year, is expected to only attract half the numbers it usually gets because of the virus, it will still be one of the biggest gatherings of people in the country since the pandemic arrived and will attract bikers from across the country.
The event starts Friday and runs till Sunday, Aug. 16, and will see the town host a series of motorcycle rides, drag races and live concerts.
While many of these events will take place outside, the sheer number of people passing through the town of 7,000 poses concerns about social distancing, with the risk even greater at the city's bars, with COVID-19 having been shown to spread more successfully in tightly-packed indoor spaces.
The Rapid City Journal reported there are concerns among residents in the city, with 63% responding to a residents' survey saying they want the rally to be postponed.
Nonetheless, the City Council approved holding the event in June by a vote of 8-1, with The Associated Press reporting it came following pressure from local businesses.
There are efforts being made to limit the spread of COVID-19, with the Journal noting that these measures include the cancelation of the B-1 flyover, opening ceremonies, photo towers, and the use of the fairgrounds.
The Buffalo Chip Campground, which hosts events and concerts during the rally, says it has taken precaution including installing sneeze guards to protect employees, placing sanitizing stations across the site, and making face masks available to purchase.
South Dakota is one of the few states that has not imposed lockdown restrictions or stay-at-home orders since COVID-19 arrived. though some businesses have chosen to shut down temporarily or impose restrictions of their own.
Though it benefits from being one of the more sparsely-populated states in the U.S., its current rate of 1,005 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people since the pandemic began is higher than Minnesota (997), Wisconsin (999), and North Dakota (876), though its death rate is lower than Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Cases have been rising over the past week, too.