Sturgis attracts hundreds of thousands as Americans awaken from COVID despite Delta variant

Sturgis was slammed as a 'superspreading event' last year

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to attend the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota as more Americans attend large gatherings this year following last year's coronavirus lockdowns.  

The rally kicked off Friday and will last over 10 days with 700,000 people expected to attend. The event was widely criticized as a "superspreading event" last year amid the pandemic, when about 460,000 people attended. 

Some state officials have urged caution on the gathering, in light of the delta variant of the virus, but have said the rally can be done "safely" with "proper precautions."

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"Anytime you have a large group of people come together there are risks, but with the proper precautions and mitigation practices, it can be done safely," Daniel Bucheli, director of communications at the South Dakota Department of Health, told USA TODAY.

"We’ve come a long way since this time last year in what we know about COVID-19, with widely available testing and COVID-19 vaccines available to the public," Bucheli said. "We encourage all those attending to continue observing mitigation risk strategies and make the choice to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others."

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The event comes as other local leaders across the nation have urged caution amid fears of the delta variant, but have supported Americans safely getting back to summer activities. 

In Chicago last week, at least 385,000 people attended the music festival Lollapalooza, with officials saying it was the largest festival held in the world this year

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot urged similar caution as Bucheli on large gatherings and added that she has "no regrets" over allowing Lollapalooza to proceed. Attendees of the event were required to be vaccinated or show proof of a negative coronavirus test. 

"We checked with [attendees] every single day, multiple times a day. We had our people at the screening checkpoints," Lightfoot told Chicago radio station WVON-AM on Wednesday. "Every single day, they turned hundreds of people away, either who didn’t have the right paperwork or had an expired test that wasn’t [taken] within 72 hours. That tells me there is a rigor around the protocols that they were using to screen people."

Meanwhile, in Southwest Florida, businesses are expected to see a record-breaking year as tourism ticks up. The state set records in 2019 for tourism, which came to a screeching halt in 2020 amid lockdowns enacted in other states across the country, Wink News reported in June

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Now, the Southwest Florida International Airport expects a 60% to 90% increase in passengers between June and August as travelers flock to the state's beaches. 

"The last summer, last winter, this past season, it’s very positive for us, very busy," Alex Cass, the general manager of Carousel Beach Inn on Fort Myers Beach said in June. "A lot of people are starting to travel again."

"I think it’s because of the proactive policies that we had to try and keep the state open and let people make their own personal health care decisions," said Commissioner Brian Hamman, who is on the Tourist Development Council in Lee County.

Baseball sales have also made a comeback this year, with teams such as the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and the Washington Nationals reporting thousands of fans in stadiums this season following last year's lockdowns. 

Ticket sales have "begun to return to pre-pandemic levels. We are seeing this trend continue across all of our remaining games," Mike Carney, the Washington Nationals executive vice president of business operations and strategy told Reuters this summer. 

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While MLB chief revenue officer Noah Garden said, "In April we all recognized there was pent-up demand." 

"It has just accelerated. ..It is not only people wanting to get out - it is a year since they have been out. … They want to spend money."