STURGIS, S.D. (KELO) — The equivalent of half of the state of South Dakota’s estimated 2019 population of 884,659 attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in 2019, according to the rally website and media reports. About 490,000 people were at last year’s 10-day rally.
The rally is on for August 7-16 this year after the Sturgis City Council voted 8-1 Monday night to host the rally. “The event will have significant changes to city-sponsored events with the intention of safeguarding the community and residents, “a city news release said Tuesday.
The rally will continue even as other large outdoor events and indoor concerts around the U.S. have been canceled or rescheduled. Many concerts scheduled for the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center in Sioux Falls have been rescheduled for 2021. Although concerts have been rescheduled, the PREMIER Center will be the site of a Professional Bull Riding event July 10-12.
Some of the canceled or rescheduled events in South Dakota and in neighboring states were done early in the pandemic, but some were later. Minnesota and Iowa canceled their state fairs within the past two weeks.
Although Sturgis and its main street are the central location of the rally, not all the 490,000 people who attended the 2019 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally were always in that location. Rally activities and visitors are spread throughout the Black Hills areas. And not all attendees came on the same day of the 10-day event.
But, safety precautions such as social distancing and nightly sanitation of the downtown area that is mentioned in the city’s news release, may prove difficult.
The 490,000 2019 visitors are at least 70 times the estimated 2019 population of Sturgis (6,500), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In 2010, Sturgis had 1,661.7 people per square mile in 3.99 square miles, according to the U.S. Census bureau. If 490,000 is divided by 10, that’s 49,000 people per day added to the population density in Sturgis.
This year is the 80th anniversary of the Sturgis rally. The rally drew its highest number of visitors in 2015, the 75th anniversary, when 750,000 people attended, according to the sturgismotorcyclerally.com
Attendance has been at least 400,000 since 2010.
The motorcycle rally would be after the planned July 3 fireworks at Mount Rushmore for which up to 7,500 people will be allowed to attend. It’s also before the state fair in September.
The state fair drew 205,172 people. If half of the 2019 attendees come to the 2020 rally, the attendance would be more than the state fair’s 2019 attendance.
Rally attendance is also far greater than two eastern South Dakota concert venues.
The PREMIER Center holds about 12,000 people for concerts, according to Experience Sioux Falls.
The PREMIER Center would need to have 41 concerts over 41 days to reach a combined attendance of 492,000.
The Swiftel Center in Brookings would need to hold 75 concerts over 75 days to reach a combined attendance of 487,500, based on a seating capacity of about 6,500.
But Sturgis won’t be the only planned motorcycle rally for this year.
Although the Daytona Bike Rally from March 6-15 was reportedly impacted by a state government declared coronavirus related emergency, the bike rally still took place.
The annual rally in Laconia, New Hampshire, was rescheduled from June to Aug. 22-30. The rally drew about 250,000 visitors in 2019, according to local media.
Sturgis, Daytona Beach, and Laconia are the top three motorcycle rallies in the U.S.
While Gov. Kristi Noem officially announced a back to normal plan for the state several weeks ago, Noem also encourages the public to be safe and practice Center for Disease Control COVID-19 guidelines such as hand washing, especially if an individual has an underlying medical condition and is in the vulnerable age range.
In April Noem said 30 to 70% of South Dakotans could get COVID-19. In the past few weeks, she and DOH officials haven’t specifically said those percentages as often during any news briefings but have said additional cases of COVID-19 are likely in the coming weeks.
At 490,000 attendees, the Sturgis rally would be the largest city in South Dakota. The Sioux Falls Metropolitan Statistical Area has a population of 266,100. The 2020 estimated population of Sioux Falls is 190,750.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Minnehaha County and Lincoln County has been declining overall since June started. But, the two counties account for at least half of the cases in the state.
Sturgis is in Meade County which is next door to Pennington County. As of June 16, Meade County had 39 COVID-19 cases and Pennington had 402, according to the DOH website.
The city news release said deliberations about the rally “included monitoring COVID-19 infection rates, and extensive communication with local health care providers. City staff and Council members have participated in more than 100 calls with various federal, state and local agencies, communities, chambers of commerce, businesses, governmental officials, and Meade 46-1 School District.”
As of June 16, 6% of the available intensive care unit beds are being used by COVID-19 patients.
State DOH officials have said there will be enough ICU beds and hospital beds available for COVID-19 patients in the future as capacity will exceed the need.
The city’s June 16 news release is attached below.