Sturgis expects more than 250,000 people to pass through the city during the Aug. 7 to 16 event, and though that number is only about half of the rally’s typical attendance, it would likely still be the largest gathering in America since the pandemic began. South Dakota has been relatively spared by the coronavirus, recording just 135 deaths from COVID-19, but many are worried that Sturgis could be the cause of an uncontrollable outbreak.
The debate over the rally has exposed a divide between citizens worried about public health and business-owners who depend on the rally to make ends meet. In a survey conducted by Sturgis, more than 60% of its residents said that the rally should be postponed. But the pressures of the tourism business — plus the realization that plenty of riders will come to Sturgis even if the event is officially not happening — has prompted the city to attempt a scaled-back version of the original rally.
“This is a huge, foolish mistake to make to host the rally this year,” Sturgis resident Lynelle Chapman told city counselors at a June meeting. “The government of Sturgis needs to care most for its citizens.”
Rallygoers have spent about $800 million in past years, according to the state Department of Tourism. Though the rally has an ignominious history of biker gangs and lawlessness, bikers of a different sort have shown up in recent years — affluent professionals who ride for recreation and come flush with cash. Though the rally still features libertine displays, it also offers charity events and tributes to the military and veterans.