Bikers Collect For Sturgis Motorbike Rally As Well being Specialists Concern COVID Unfold : NPR

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Motorcycle enthusiasts take part in the 81st annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, SD on Sunday. The rally is expected to attract up to 700,000 people during its 10-day run. Scott Olson / Getty Images Hide caption

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Scott Olson / Getty Images

Motorcycle enthusiasts take part in the 81st annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, SD on Sunday. The rally is expected to attract up to 700,000 people during its 10-day run.

Scott Olson / Getty Images

The Budweiser Clydesdales, a man disguised as Captain America, women wearing nothing but body paint, and a motorcycle covered in antlers and taxidermy are just a few of the sights to see at the 81st annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Sturgis, which has fewer than 7,000 residents, will temporarily become the state’s largest city as up to 700,000 bikers roll for the 10-day event that began in the Black Hills of western South Dakota on Friday.

The rally has no compulsory vaccinations, tests or masks, as people drive outdoors, but also gather in tattoo studios, bars, campsites and concerts.

Governor Kristi Noem and Sturgis Mayor Mark Carstensen say the rally is safe, but medical experts fear that there will be an increase in cases due to the Delta variant and low vaccination rates in the Black Hills.

The tattooed, leather-clad crowd cheered on Friday as the parade swept down Main Street on opening day. The drag is lined with hundreds of bikes and massive bars manned by barely clothed waiters and dancers.

Medical experts are concerned about the spread of the coronavirus in the Black Hills and across the country when drivers return home. Scott Olson / Getty Images Hide caption

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Scott Olson / Getty Images

Medical experts are concerned about the spread of the coronavirus in the Black Hills and across the country when drivers return home.

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Carstensen said there had been no debate about hosting the rally as there were few pandemic restrictions in South Dakota. He said it was too late to reconsider once the Delta variant arrived.

“When it happened, everything was already planned, done, organized, ready to go, people are already here, so there’s not much we can do,” he said.

Medical experts are concerned about the spread of the virus in the Black Hills and across the country when drivers return home.

“Unfortunately, the Sturgis rally increases the risk of spread, as we know the Delta variant leads to an increase in, for example, Arkansas, Missouri and several other states,” said Dr. Shankar Kurra, vice president of medical affairs at Monument Health, which serves western South Dakota.

CDC researchers found at least 649 cases of COVID related to last year’s rally, which took place despite 60% of Sturgis residents saying they wanted a postponement.

The CDC reported that around 44% of people ages 12 and older in Sturgis and the surrounding county are fully vaccinated as cases increase in South Dakota.

Lina Skipper is a Colorado tattoo artist who has worked on the rally for 10 years. Skipper is vaccinated but wears a mask when tattooing as their clients may not be vaccinated. She does not want to pass the delta variant on to her high-risk relatives. Arielle Zionts / SDPB hide caption

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Arielle Zionts / SDPB

Lina Skipper is a Colorado tattoo artist who has worked on the rally for 10 years. Skipper is vaccinated but wears a mask when tattooing as their clients may not be vaccinated. She does not want to pass the delta variant on to her high-risk relatives.

Arielle Zionts / SDPB

Lina Skipper mixed in with the Sturgis crowd with her rainbow hair and heart-shaped sunglasses when she took a smoke break in front of a tattoo shop. She is vaccinated and wears a mask when tattooing clients.

“We don’t require customers to wear their masks because unfortunately it’s not like a government duty. It’s hard to ask people to wear them because you will face a lot of resistance,” Skipper said.

A group of Bikers for Christ gathered outside the community center. Member Jenny McKinney is a school bus driver attending the rally with her husband for the first time. She’s not vaccinated.

“A motorcycle can be more dangerous than COVID. Something will bring you You just have to know where you are going when you die, ”she said.

Shawn “Hatchet” and Jenny “Blondie” McKinney are members of Bikers for Christ in Indiana. Shawn, who is competing in his third rally, wanted his wife to experience Sturgis for the first time. Both are not vaccinated. Arielle Zionts / SDPB hide caption

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Arielle Zionts / SDPB

Shawn “Hatchet” and Jenny “Blondie” McKinney are members of Bikers for Christ in Indiana. Shawn, who is competing in his third rally, wanted his wife to experience Sturgis for the first time. Both are not vaccinated.

Arielle Zionts / SDPB

Shawna Garland also works with students. But the high school teacher is vaccinated and tries to avoid crowds.

“Well, my friend is coming up to see her relatives and she asked if I wanted to go and I said, ‘Yeah, I want to see what this is about.” I just like people watching and shopping. “

Eric Kass came to Sturgis with a ruby ​​red motorcycle that he had bought at last year’s rally. The veteran and former correctional officer has no plans to get vaccinated.

“I just love to see the bikes, the camaraderie of the people trying to get along, the tattoos – I just got a tattoo on my whole arm – just love the atmosphere,” said Kass.

Last year, Sturgis ran mass tests on asymptomatic people to monitor the virus. This year it is offering home testing for those who want it. Dr. Kurra said Monument will monitor cases through tests and the number of people walking through the hospital doors.