Thousands of bikers poured into the small city of Sturgis, South Dakota, on Friday for the start of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, despite concerns among residents that the 10-day gathering could spread the coronavirus.
The rally, which has been happening since 1938, expects to draw 250,000 people from around the country in what could be one of the largest public gatherings in the U.S. since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
Some bikers at the event said that while they will take precautions against the virus, they didn’t let it stop them from coming.
“We’ll take precautions and, you know, hopefully, everyone will be respectful,” one biker told NBC’s “TODAY.” “We take it seriously but, no, no reservations. We’re glad to be here.”
Another said you just have to be careful. “You can’t not live life.”
Those attending the rally are encouraged, but not required, to wear face masks. The governor of South Dakota has never issued a stay-at-home order or mask mandate for the state.
One attendee, Stephen Sample, said he rode his bike from Arizona for the event.
“I don’t want to die, but I don’t want to be cooped up all my life either,” the 66-year-old said.
Sample said he does have concerns about catching the virus and will try to avoid indoor bars and venues, where he feels there is a greater risk.
“I think we’re all willing to take a chance,” he said.
Rallygoers Bill Sudkamp and his wife were also taking precautions.
The couple, who were each wearing a face mask, said they will avoid bars, and that they see it as inevitable that infections would spread in bars and at concert venues.
“It looked like South Dakota was plateauing mostly,” Sudkamp said of coronavirus cases in the state. “It will be interesting to see what it looks like in two weeks.”
That prospect of coronavirus infections possibly rising from the rally has worried some residents of this city of 7,000 in the western part of the state.
As of Saturday morning, South Dakota reported a total of 9,371 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 144 deaths, according to the state Department of Health website.
“I think it’s pretty selfish that the powers that be didn’t stop this,” resident Nate Nelson told “TODAY” about the rally.
City Manager Daniel Ainslie said officials had their hands tied. “We can’t block off the entrances to our community, and so on a daily basis we’re getting hundreds of thousands of people saying, ‘It doesn’t matter what happens, we’re coming to your town.'”
One week after the rally, residents of Sturgis will be able to take the coronavirus test free of charge, “TODAY” reported.