Despite the influx of COVID cases following the Sturgis motorcycle rally, a gathering of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts was given the green light at Lake of the Ozarks.
Bikefest Lake of the Ozarks drew about 125,000 last year.
According to Tim Jacobsen, director of the Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitor Bureau and a member of the Lake of the Ozarks Bikefest committee, more are expected this year for the five-day event, which kicked off Wednesday, September 16 and will run through Sunday, Sept. 20, according to Lake Expo.
It’s been hailed as the largest motorcycle rally in the Midwest and includes vendors, concerts, biker activities, and gatherings at bars and restaurants, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
According to KansasCity.Com, since the event kicked off, only a handful of tourists were seen wearing masks.
This is cause for concern in Missouri, where COVID numbers are quickly growing and there is no mask requirement nor limit on capacity and gatherings.
“Bikers don’t wear masks,” Lake Ozark Mayor Gerry Murawski. “It’s just that’s the way they are.”
Pandemic restrictions in the state were lifted on June 16 when cases were a little over 16,000, but since then, they’ve grown significantly to over 100,000 with more than 1,500 dead.
The event follows South Dakota’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August and raises similar concerns.
Sturgis welcomed nearly 500,000 bikers and was deemed a “superspreader” for coronavirus as a study estimated that about 260,000 new cases may have come from the event and its attendees. This accounts for roughly 19% of the total number of US cases in the month of August.
A Minnesota biker was believed to be the first COVID-related death associated with the Sturgis motorcycle rally. The man in his 60's had underlying conditions, and had been intensive care, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
Steve Edwards, chief executive of Springfield-based CoxHealth, who operates several hospitals and health clinics in southern Missouri, was concerned that Bikefest would not only increase cases locally but also spread the virus as bikers returned home.
“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.
He summed it up by saying the event is “reckless.”
Vance Scovel and his wife, Cindy, rode about 350 miles from their home in Iowa to attend Bikefest. They also attended Sturgis last month with no issues and said they took safety precautions.
“I know I should be wearing a mask,” Scovel told the outlet, adding, “but I’m not too concerned about it.”