Tens of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts descended on Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks for its Bikefest this weekend, three weeks after a similar rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, was linked to COVID-19 cases in at least eight states.
The five-day festival started on Wednesday as Missouri continues to see a surge in COVID-19 cases. On Saturday, Missouri reported 1,387 new cases, and, according to the Associated Press, hospitalizations are rising.
Missouri has no statewide mask requirement, and Lake Ozark Mayor Gerry Murawski told the Kansas City Star last week that he had doubts motorcycle rally attendees would wear face coverings.
“It’s just that’s the way they are,” he told The Star.
The festival — which includes five days of motorcycle rides, concerts, and events at bars and restaurants — normally draws more than 100,000 people. It’s unclear exactly how many people attended this year’s rally, though the AP reported that tens of thousands were in attendance.
Health experts have raised concerns about the motorcycle rally and Missouri’s COVID-19 caseload.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told The Daily Beast that social distancing was “unlikely” to happen at bike rallies like the one in the Lake of the Ozarks.
“People are going to congregate from all over the country, and it will likely spur a chain of transmissions that has impacts in various different states,” Adalja said. “It will be a major task for public health officials because it is very difficult to track this mobile population.”
It was reported in August that the Sturgis motorcycle rally, which drew a crowd of nearly half a million, had been linked to 100 COVID-19 cases in eight states. Experts called the event a “super spreader” and one study linked 19% of the total COVID-19 cases in the US last month to the Sturgis rally, though the study has been disputed by some health experts.
Steve Edwards, the chief executive of CoxHealth, a Springfield, Missouri, based agency that operates health clinics in Missouri, told AP that the Ozarks motorcycle rally was “reckless” because of its indoor activities and a lack of social distancing, which can put people at a higher risk for COVID-19.
“These events tend to draw many people into crowded spaces. It’s especially worrisome if participants gather indoors at bars and restaurants which have proven to be high-risk areas,” Edwards said.
But some bikers have told outlets that they weren’t worried about the virus.
“Honestly, I think that the COVID-19 thing is a little overblown, to be honest,” Dan Ousley, a 51-year-old local who attends the rally ever year, told The Daily Beast.
“We made national news for having large crowds, but we just want to live our life.”
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