Sturgis motorcycle rally attendees lounge in bikinis, pack into bars, and mock mask wearers: 'It's like COVID does not exist here'

horecchio@businessinsider.com (Haven Orecchio-Egresitz)
·6 mins read
Trump 2020 swag is flying off the shelves at this year's Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
Trump 2020 swag is flying off the shelves at this year's Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Jim Urquhart/Insider

  • Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attendees are packing bars, wrestling in bikinis, and scoffing at the few who wear face masks.

  • Some attendees have taken a cavalier approach to the deadly virus, which has engulfed the United States, killing more than 163,000 people as of August 10.

  • One recovering coronavirus victim at the rally told Insider that he expects an uptick in cases after the event.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Bill Converse had never attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally before, but this year he drove 29 hours from Georgia to sell his conservative pro-second amendment novelty T-shirts at the famous annual South Dakota event.

The 10-day rally brought hundreds of thousands of bikers to the small city of Sturgis, in the middle of a pandemic. While more than half of the local residents wanted the event to be canceled, city officials knew people would show up anyway and did their best to prepare.

Related video: Risk ranking of everyday activities for COVID-19

Since Friday, visitors have packed into bars, used communal Slip n Slides, and — for the most part — flouted advice from local officials to wear masks.

Between the event kickoff Friday and early Monday morning, there were nearly 90 drug arrests and 286 total citations within city limits, according to statistics provided by the South Dakota state highway patrol.

"It's like COVID does not exist here, to be honest with you," Converse told Insider Monday.

Converse said he enjoys the "refreshing" camaraderie at the rally, where attendees "love our country, love our flag, and love our president."

"From my perspective, I feel that Sturgis is like America used to be," he said. "I could go up to anyone around me, I've never met them before, and say 'Hey, I need an extension cord, you got any?' and they'll fall over to get something for me. It's fantastic."

Many Sturgis Rally visitors believe coronavirus is a hoax and fears are overblown.
Many Sturgis Rally visitors believe coronavirus is a hoax and fears are overblown.

Jim Urquhart/Insider

Converse is one of the many visitors to Sturgis who believes that concerns about the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 163,000 people in the United States and more than 732,000 globally, are overblown.

"I've never met anybody and I do gun shows every single weekend. I'm in face-to-face contact with thousands of people every weekend from all over the country, I've never come down with it. Nobody that I know at any of the gun shows have come down with it," he said. "I would say a lot of the people out here aren't convinced that the numbers are accurate. There's a lot of suspicion from the conservative side that the numbers are skewed to support an agenda that's against our president."

Politics has become a prominent through line at this year's rally. Stands lining the streets of Sturgis are selling Trump campaign gear.

But not everyone is on board with the false claim that the virus is a myth. Real Pinard, a biker from Arizona, said the "stubborn" belief that COVID-19 is a hoax is rampant at the rally and not based in reality.

Pinard, who is still recovering after a 15-day bout with COVID-19, has attended the rally for six years because he loves the beauty of the ride through the Black Hills region of South Dakota.

"I just like the ride, but some people just have no idea what's going on," Pinard, who is originally from Canada, told Insider.

Most people at the Sturgis Rally are flouting advice to wear masks. Some are scoffing at those who do.
Most people at the Sturgis Rally are flouting advice to wear masks. Some are scoffing at those who do.

Jim Urquhart for Insider

As a COVID-19 survivor, he knows it's not a hoax

Pinard said that for eight days earlier this year he had a fever of 100.8 degrees. For 15 days, he had headaches so bad he thought his "head was going to blow up," and by the end, his lung capacity had decreased to 50%, he says.

"I thought I was going to die," he said.

Now at the rally, Pinard is wearing a mask, trying to keep his distance, and washing his hands often. He shakes his head when he sees stickers or decals calling the virus a conspiracy.

"Are you shitting me? That means 180 countries around the world are waiting on Trump having an election," he said. "They drink a lot of Kool-Aid. Common sense doesn't seem to work here.

Pinard said there are others like him, who attend the motorcycle rally simply for the ride and don't share the same beliefs as the majority of visitors. Locals running shops or restaurants wear masks and keep a distance, he said.

Some rally attendees will scoff at people donning masks, but Pinard says he hasn't encountered any trouble.

On Sunday, Pinard said he visited a local bar but left after people there were participating in a "sneeze contest."

"It was to see who can sneeze the furthest out," he said. "People were laughing and applauding. I said what the heck, they think it's fake," Pinard said, referring to COVID-19.

Insider called the bar where Pinard said the contest took place. An employee denied the claim and hung up the phone before answering any more questions.

Local officials are prepared for the worst when the rally ends.
Local officials are prepared for the worst when the rally ends.

Jim Urquhart/Insider

The city of Sturgis is prepared for the worst when crowds leave

City officials have no real authority to order guests to wear masks. An ordinance like that would have to come from the office of Gov. Kristi Noem, who has chosen not to pursue such an order.

Instead, the city implemented grocery delivery services for seniors and at-risk residents, it has encouraged locals to stay home, and organized a mass-testing event scheduled for the week after the rally.

Mark Schulte, president of the local Monument Health Sturgis Hospital, told Insider that he can't predict whether there will be an outbreak, but staff has prepared for one if it happens. They're also ready for an uptick in emergency room visits.

Converse says he agrees with some of the preventative measures, but only to a point: "My opinion is, if you are scared of getting COVID, or you're at high-risk, then you stay home. It's wrong for the government to make me stay home because somebody else might get sick."

"If that person is sick, let them stay home," he said.

But that's not how infectious diseases work.

Most coronavirus infections can be traced to super-spreading events, like rallies, where one person infects many others, recent research out of Hong Kong found. The study described super-spreader events as the primary means of transmission of the virus.

Pinard said he worries how many states will see a surge in cases after rally attendees go home.

"I just wish people had more common sense," he said.

Read the original article on Insider