South Dakota braces 250,000 at Sturgis motorcycle rally despite coronavirus


The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has been an annual tradition in South Dakota for 80 years, and despite the fears of many residents, it looks like the 2020 edition of the rally will go as planned amid the coronavirus pandemic.

© Andrew Cullen
STURGIS, SOUTH DAKOTA – AUGUST 3: Bikers descend Main Street on day one of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally on August 3, 2015 in Sturgis, South Dakota. This year marks the rally’s 75th anniversary, with crowds of up to 1.2 million people expected. (Photo by Andrew Cullen / Getty Images)

Sturgis expects more than 250,000 people to pass through the city during the event from August 7-16, and while that number is only about half of the typical rally attendance, it would likely still be the largest gathering in America since the start of the pandemic. South Dakota has been relatively spared from the coronavirus, registering just 135 deaths from COVID-19, but many fear Sturgis may be the cause of an out of control outbreak.

“It’s a huge, stupid mistake to host the rally this year,” Sturgis resident Lynelle Chapman told city councilors at a meeting in June, according to AP. “The Sturgis government needs to care about its citizens the most.”

The rally debate has revealed a rift between citizens concerned about public health and business leaders who depend on the rally to make ends meet. In a survey by Sturgis, more than 60% of its residents said the rally should be postponed. But pressures from the tourism industry – along with the realization that many riders will come to Sturgis even if the event officially doesn’t take place – prompted the city to attempt a scaled-down version of the original rally.

Sturgis cut publicity for the rally, canceled its city-hosted events, planned to conduct large-scale testing and hoped that restrictions on travel from Canada will limit crowd sizes. But at least some believe the circumstances surrounding the 2020 rally could draw even more visitors to the region.

“This is the biggest single event going on in the United States that hasn’t been canceled,” Rod Woodruff, who operates the Buffalo Chip Campground and Concert Hall, told AP. “A lot of people think it’s going to be bigger than ever.”

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