For the 700,000 people expected to descend on South Dakota’s Black Hills for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, the slogan for this year’s event after a year of pandemic restrictions and lockdowns is: “We’re spreading our wings.”
“People want to escape,” said Jerry Cole, director of rally and events for the city of Sturgis, S.D., “and they’re escaping to South Dakota.”
But as coronavirus cases are rising because of the highly transmissible delta variant and millions who remain unvaccinated, there is concern among health officials, residents and even attendees that one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the world, which began Friday, has the potential to become the latest superspreader event at a time when the resurgent virus is ripping across the United States.
The 81st annual motorcycle rally comes a year after roughly 460,000 attendees shunned masks and social distancing at an event that researchers associated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded “had many characteristics of a superspreading event.” At least 649 covid-19 cases were linked to Sturgis, but the true total was obscured as contact tracing was difficult after bikers returned to their home states.
Although Sturgis’s coronavirus case numbers are relatively low, the CDC has designated Meade County, which includes the city, as an area of “high community transmission,” advising residents or visitors to wear masks in public indoor spaces. About 37 percent of Meade County is fully vaccinated, according to the CDC, and more than 47 percent of South Dakota is fully inoculated as of Friday.