As hundreds of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts descend on the tiny city of Sturgis, South Dakota, for the 80th Strugis Motorcycle Rally, a medical expert has warned the mass gathering has the potential to be a “super spreader event‘ that could lead to a large-scale, regional coronavirus outbreak.
“I’m less concerned with these folks just riding their bikes through the hills than I am about what happens at night, in bars and restaurants and hotels,” said CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner.
“When you look at the video from Sturgis now there are very few people wearing masks,” he added.
Despite the United States having almost 5 million cases of Covid-19, the highest in the world, the huge motorcycle rally is still going ahead as planned. Last year more than 500,000 people attended the annual gathering, this year organizers estimate as many as 250,000 could show up, making it among the largest gatherings worldwide since the beginning of the pandemic.
At the Sturgis Buffalo Chip, a large campground close to the event, the owner, Rod Woodruff, said he’s not concerned about the rally.
“Ride free, take risks. That’s our motto,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you don’t calculate them. And these people calculate their risks every time they get on a motorcycle.”
South Dakota has recorded 9,477 coronavirus cases and 146 deaths as of Saturday, according to the South Dakota Department of Health, far lower than many US states. However, local officials in the area around Strugis, which has a permanent population of around 7,000, have said they are concerned about the potential for the virus to rapidly spread through participants at the 10-day event.
“They’re not going to be able to handle any kind of social distancing, there’s a significant amount of alcohol involved, it’s a huge party,” said Laura Armstrong, city council president in Rapid City, the largest town near Sturgis.
“They can infect our Native American population, our law enforcement, potentially our bar staff, our tourist attractions, our hotels and motels, and even our grocery stores.”
Reiner said he was particularly concerned about what would happen when the rally was over and the participants then headed back to their home states across the US, potentially helping to further spread the highly-infectious coronavirus.
“A quarter of a million people are going to spread out into their communities, so this has the potential to be a super spreader event,” said Reiner.
“We heard a visitor saying they were just tired of this and looking to have some fun. Well the virus doesn’t really care,” he said. “This is a ridiculous thing to have in the middle of a pandemic … The rest of the world is laughing at us.”
Watch the full interview here: