At least as many as 250,000 people were expected to descend on a South Dakota town of about 7,000 on the edge of the Black Hills National Forest Friday for the start of the 80th annual 10-day Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, drawing condemnation and headlines quoting opponents calling it a “huge, foolish mistake.”
The event, run by the city and which is scheduled to have concerts, drag races, a Mayor’s Charity Poker Tournament and a “Remember Our Fallen” memorial, already was beginning to swell the tiny hamlet on Friday afternoon, Minneapolis ABC affiliate KTSP reported.
CNN quoted Sturgis Mayor Mark Carstensen as saying, “We cannot stop people from coming,” but it didn’t halt the criticism of those who said it should have been cancelled during the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
The Washington Post quoted an Associated Press story, which quoted local resident Linda Chaplin as saying: “This is a huge, foolish mistake to make to host the rally this year.” Her comment was featured in a headline by NBC News.
The rally, worth $1.3 million to the local economy, according to the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, also drew a storm of criticism on social media such as Twitter.
Sturgis’ city council voted 8-1 on June 15 to stage the rally, although without the usual seating in a plaza. Carstensen called it “a difficult decision.”
The rally is being held without any quarantine recommendations from hot spot states, Carstensen said, and leaders are just “hoping people make the right choices.”
The event has the support of Republican Gov. Kristi L. Noem, who did not issue a “stay at home” order during the peak of the outbreak, saying “South Dakota is not New York City.”
“We hope people come,” Noem said. “Our economy benefits when people come and visit us.”
Like the rest of the country, South Dakota saw an initial spike of infections in April and a secondary one in mid May. But it’s seven-day moving average of new daily infections has remained relatively flat since late May, according to Worldometers.info.
Overall, it has had 9,371 cases resulting in 144 deaths, one of the lowest in the country.
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