Annual Sturgis rally expecting 250K, stirring virus concerns

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — 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, braces to host hundreds of thousands of bikers for the 80th edition of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

More than 250,000 people are expected to rumble through western South Dakota, seeking the freedom of cruising the boundless landscapes in a state that has skipped lockdowns. The Aug. 7 to 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 at this year’s event, 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 to make to host the rally this year,” Sturgis resident Linda Chaplin told city counselors at a June meeting. “The government of Sturgis needs to care most for its citizens.”

In a survey of residents conducted by the city, more than 60% said the rally should be postponed. But businesses pressured the City Council to proceed.

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