ENTERTAINMENT

What social distancing? 250,000 bikers descend to South Dakota for the 10-day festival


The mayor of a small town in South Dakota says he has his fingers crossed for people to behave responsibly as up to 250,000 people flock to his 7,000-resident city for an annual motorcycle rally.

Mark Carstensen, Mayor of Sturgis, South Dakota, said he was determined to promote "personal responsibility".

He said his team had set up sanitary stations and distributed masks – although face covering was not required.

"We can't stop people from coming," he told CNN on Thursday ahead of the annual event, which has been going on for 80 years.

Health officials are still warning of small gatherings, and states with relatively low prevalence – like South Dakota – are ordering visitors to self-quarantine from hot spots.

However, there are no restrictions for the start of the 10-day jamborees.

Sturgis, South Dakota, will greet 250,000 people for a motorcycle rally this weekend

Motorcyclists ride Main Street during the 80th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota on Saturday

Motorcyclists ride Main Street during the 80th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota on Saturday

The small town of Sturgis attracts large crowds every year for the annual motorcycle festival and rally

The small town of Sturgis attracts large crowds every year for the annual motorcycle festival and rally

Motorcyclists flock to Sturgis, South Dakota for a rally on Saturday

Motorcyclists flock to Sturgis, South Dakota for a rally on Saturday

The annual event, which is taking place for the 80th time, attracts 250,000 people to the city of Sturgis

The annual event, which is taking place for the 80th time, attracts 250,000 people to the city of Sturgis

The motorcyclist event is estimated to generate an estimated $ 1.3 million in the annual economy

The motorcyclist event is estimated to generate an estimated $ 1.3 million in the annual economy

An estimated 250,000 people gather in South Dakota before exploring the region

An estimated 250,000 people gather in South Dakota before exploring the region

Concerned residents say officials should have canceled the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Republican governor Kristi Noem defied stay-at-home instructions and mask rules and welcomed another mass event last month, President Donald Trump's July 4th speech at the base of Mount Rushmore.

A city poll found that more than 60 percent of Sturgis residents wanted the event to be postponed, the Associated Press reported.

"This is a big, stupid mistake to make in order to host the rally this year," said Linda Chaplin, a woman living in Sturgis, in a message to the city council earlier this summer.

"The Sturgis government needs to look after its citizens the most."

"My grandma is absolutely scared because she has diabetes, is over 80 and has lupus," another resident told CNN.

"If she gets it, it's a death sentence."

The event in the Black Hills of South Dakota is hugely important to the local economy and raised $ 1.3 million in tax revenue for cities and states last year, according to Argus Leader.

A letter from a mayor about Sturgis describes how the city "comes to life" with half a million visitors during a typical August rally and suddenly turns into the "largest community in the state" with concerts and races.

On June 15, the city council members voted 8 to 1 for the motorcycle rally to continue – but without the usual seats in one square.

Carstensen spoke to CNN on Thursday that it was "a difficult decision" to hold the rally.

He noted that the city will expand a program to supply the homes of those concerned about the virus.

But there are no quarantine recommendations for bikers from hot-spot states, the mayor said, and those responsible only hope that people will make the right decisions.

Visitors had already come to the Black Hills amid the pandemic, he said.

"We hope that people will come," Noem said of the motorcycle rally.

"Our economy benefits when people visit us."

A man prepares to take off his motorcycle on Saturday in South Dakota

A man prepares to take off his motorcycle on Saturday in South Dakota

A woman prepares to ride her Harley Davidson in Sturgis, South Dakota on Saturday

A woman prepares to ride her Harley Davidson in Sturgis, South Dakota on Saturday

A dog rides a motorcycle through downtown Deadwood, South Dakota on Saturday

A dog rides a motorcycle through downtown Deadwood, South Dakota on Saturday

A motorcyclist is pictured on Main Street in Sturgis on the Saturday before the rally

A motorcyclist is pictured on Main Street in Sturgis on the Saturday before the rally

Trump supporters proudly showed their loyalty at the rally in South Dakota on Saturday

Trump supporters proudly showed their loyalty at the rally in South Dakota on Saturday

Up to 250,000 people are expected at the South Dakota rally pictured on Saturday

Up to 250,000 people are expected at the South Dakota rally pictured on Saturday

Bikers from the USA have come to South Dakota for the annual rally

Bikers from the USA have come to South Dakota for the annual rally

Up to 250,000 people are expected in South Dakota for the annual Jamboree in Sturgis

Up to 250,000 people are expected in South Dakota for the annual Jamboree in Sturgis

Noem denounced the "herd mentality" and said the coronavirus restrictions were not right for their rural state.

"South Dakota is not New York City," she said.

A pork processing facility in South Dakota soon became one of the largest coronavirus clusters in the country in the spring – but cases eventually declined and the sparsely populated state didn't shake daily records like many southern and western states this summer.

The average new daily cases reported in South Dakota have risen in the past few weeks but remain below 100, and the state averages one or two deaths a day.

The state health department reported 106 new cases on Saturday.

There have been 9,300 cases and 146 deaths in the state of 885,000 residents.

Benjamin Aaker, the president of the South Dakota State Medical Association, told CNN on Thursday that he was concerned – but insisted that the rally could be held safely if people followed recommendations like social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks.

"It's already there," he said of the coronavirus.

“But will it get worse with such an event?

"If we don't take the right precautions, it will."