With upwards of 250,000 motorcycle enthusiasts expected to make the drive to South Dakota over the next week, Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm says the decision to hold the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally during the pandemic is "disappointing."
"Disappointing that the decision was made to go ahead with the event at a time when South Dakota has seen a significant upsurge in cases," Malcolm said Wednesday.
"We know this draws people from many states so there are people coming into the event from high-incidence states. It's a pretty ripe environment for further spread and folks bringing the virus back to their home communities."
The motorcycle rally starts Friday and runs through 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 known to transmit more easily in crowded indoor spaces.
The Rapid City Journal reported there are concerns among residents in the city, with 63% responding to a survey saying they want the rally postponed.
Sturgis is located in Meade County, where there have been only 78 confirmed cases and one death from COVID-19, including 0-4 confirmed cases each of the past 14 days, according to the South Dakota Department of Health.
But it's the potential for visitors coming from hot spots around the country that worries Malcolm, who advises "people in higher-risk groups" to "seriously consider the wisdom of attending."
Attendees advised to quarantine, get tested upon return
For those that do attend the festival, Malcolm is urging them to avoid long contacts in close quarters and be thoughtful that "when they come home it's not just the risk to yourself but the ability to spread the virus to other people at higher risk."
She also advised that attendees quarantine upon returning to Minnesota, and get tested for COCVID five to seven days later – even if symptoms aren't present.
People at higher risk for severe illness from COVID varies greatly, though those over the age of 60 or with underlying conditions face greater odds of complications. On July 17, the CDC modified its list of underlying health conditions into three tiers:
Strongest and most consistent evidence: Severe heart conditions, cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, obesity, sickle cell disease, solid organ transplantation, Type 2 diabetes mellitus
Mixed evidence: Asthma, cerebrovascular disease, hypertension, pregnancy, smoking, use of corticosteroids or other immunosuppressive medications
Limited evidence: Bone marrow transplantation, HIV, immune deficiencies, inherited metabolic disorders, neurological conditions, other chronic lung diseases, pediatrics, liver disease, Type 1 diabetes mellitus, thalassemia