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I’m writing this Sunday morning around 11 am, and I just spent the last ten minutes watching the live webcam from main street in Sturgis, South Dakota, where they hold the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally, sponsored by Harley Davidson. While I didn’t see shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, I did not see one mask and no one seemed to be social distancing at all. I also saw so many people riding without helmets, which are not required for over-18 riders in South Dakota. A journalist at the site where I found the webcam, rideapart.com, watched the live feed and described heavy crowds and no mask wearing at peak times. Photos and videos of the event show the same. The nine day event has about half the attendance of a typical Sturgis rally and was estimated to draw around 250,000 people. We’ve heard of church revivals, funerals and school reopenings resulting in outbreaks despite earnest measures being taken. What about a huge gathering where no one is wearing masks? Sturgis is about to be a superspreader event. I’m going to quote Justin Hughes at rideapart here, because I like his take as part of the motorcycling community:
While local businesses pushed for the rally to continue as normal, major manufacturers such as Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle have significantly reduced their presence. Earlier this week we reported on Indian’s measures, with an update that only four employees, who volunteered for the task, are attending, rather their usual 50. Indian normally runs a huge operation on Lazelle Street, where I spent some time last year trying a few bikes and borrowing a Springfield Dark Horse for the week. Harley is going one step further and has sent no one to Sturgis, and issued the following statement:
“Harley-Davidson is the official motorcycle of the Sturgis 80th Motorcycle Rally. We will be focusing our on-the-ground support in ways that are consistent with our health and safety goals instead of large consumer activations. This support will amplify the hallmark experience of Sturgis, which is rooted in riding and the spectacular roads of the Black Hills.”
Rather, it is the attendees themselves who are making light of the situation. The webcam shows that virtually no one is wearing a mask, nor social distancing—not that social distancing is really possible in the center of town. It’s a hotbed of potential contagion. With 250,000 people expected to attend and even a 1-percent death rate, by the numbers that means 2,500 Sturgis attendees could die from COVID-19—perhaps more since most aren’t taking even basic safety precautions.
What concerns me most, however, is what happens after Sturgis. People gather from all over, mingle, then go home, potentially bringing the virus with them. The 2,500 who get sick as a result of direct contact at Sturgis is one thing. How many people they, as well as an unknown number of asymptomatic carriers, will affect back home is quite another.
“If we get it, we chose to be here,” quotes the New York Times headline. Indeed, as riders, we accept that anytime we get on a bike could be our last ride. The difference is that if I crash and die, I’ve only taken myself out. I accepted that risk and took it. Friends, family, and co-workers of people attending Sturgis did not sign up for this. Many of them don’t even ride motorcycles, yet could become sick or even die as a result of someone they know attending the rally.
I ride, and I’m not surprised to see that so many of the people who attended are the same ones who don’t wear helmets. Attending this event is selfish, it’s reckless and they’re not just potentially making themselves sick, they’re putting their family, coworkers and friends at risk too. I’m also interested in how the sponsors are responding. It sounds like Indian and Harley Davidson had a muted response because they don’t want to piss off any customers. That’s understandable but it’s still really disappointing.
I just looked through the photos on Getty from this year and the #Sturgis tag on Instagram. I feel really sick to my stomach.
like half a million people are going get covid because a bunch of retired dentists and owners of construction companies want to spend a week away from their wives larping as bikers
— mustache guy (official now) (@TonyBeast1957) August 8, 2020
I’m really sorry for including the caption to this post but you need to see it.
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You know wanna know the secret to life? One thing. Just one thing is all it is for any one. And you have to decide what that thing is for you. For me that thing is freedom. Pure, simple, unadulterated freedom to do as I see fit. People are yearning for it. They are crying for it. And here, this week, they are living it. And let me tell you, they are loving it! But that is why I’m here at the worlds biggest party. And I can’t describe to you how good it feels to be here with so many patriots. We’re gonna win folks. Because freedom always wins in the end. #maga #trump2020 #sturgis #covidsucks #merica #freedom #patriot