I understand how people want to move on from this pandemic — God knows I want to — but the reality is you can't ignore it. You can't just tell the virus you're done with it. — Dr. Michael Osterholm, the director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy
I understand how people want to move on from this pandemic — God knows I want to — but the reality is you can't ignore it. You can't just tell the virus you're done with it. — Dr. Michael Osterholm, the director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy
The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Is Coming Back Despite The Ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic
Crowds of bikers are rumbling their way towards South Dakota's Black Hills this week, raising fears that COVID-19 infections will be unleashed among the 700,000 people expected to show up at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

The rally, which starts Friday, has become a haven for those eager to escape coronavirus precautions. Last year, the rally hardly slowed down, with roughly 460,000 people attending. Masks were mostly ditched as bikers crowded into bars, tattoo parlors and rock shows, offering a lesson in how massive gatherings could spread waves of the virus across the country.

This year — the 81st iteration of the rally — is expected to be even bigger, drawing people from around the U.S. and beyond, despite concerns about the virus' highly contagious delta variant.

... The city of Sturgis, usually a sleepy community of under 7,000, tried to tamp things down last year, canceling most city-sponsored events and promotion, but hordes of bikers showed up anyway.

"The rally is a behemoth, and you cannot stop it," said Carol Fellner, a local who worried that this year's event would cause a fresh outbreak of cases. "I feel absolutely powerless."

This year, the city is embracing the crowds. Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has given the rally her blessing and will appear in a charity ride. The event is a boon for tourism, powering over $800 million in sales, according to the state Department of Tourism.

The rally is happening as other giant summer events — from state fairs to music festivals like Lollapalooza — are returning around the U.S. In Wisconsin, health officials say nearly 500 coronavirus cases may be linked to the crowds that attended Milwaukee Bucks games or gathered outside the team's arena — estimated as high as 100,000 one night — during their push to the NBA championship.

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally's defenders argue open air is plentiful on the meandering highways and in the campgrounds where many bikers stay, but contact tracers last year reported 649 virus cases from every corner of the country linked to the rally, including one death. A team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded in a published study that the 2020 rally " had many characteristics of a superspreading event. "

... The attitude was summed up on a T-shirt sold last year: "Screw COVID. I went to Sturgis."

But public health experts warned the massive gathering revved the virus far beyond those who chose to attend. One team of economists argued that the rally set off a chain reaction that resulted in 250,000 cases nationwide. However, that paper was not peer reviewed and was criticized by some top epidemiologists — as well as some bikers — for overestimating the rally's impact. While it's not clear how many cases can be blamed on last year's rally, it coincided with the start of a sharp increase across the Great Plains that ultimately crescendoed in a deadly winter.

The gathering could potentially power a fresh wave of infections like the one that is currently shattering hospitalization records in parts of the South, said Dr. Michael Osterholm, the director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

"I understand how people want to move on from this pandemic — God knows I want to — but the reality is you can't ignore it," he said. "You can't just tell the virus you're done with it."
Read the full article: https://www.npr.org/2021/08/04/1024902949/sturgis-bike-rally-friday-2021-covid-delta-variant