“Sturgis was a really clear warning sign to us,” Sununu said at a news briefing. “I don’t think anyone saw the photos out of Sturgis and said, ‘That looks safe.’ ”
But Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, said the New Hampshire event won’t be like the Sturgis rally: There will not be vendors’ booths at which rallygoers may gather.
“It’s going to be nothing like is normal,” he told The Washington Post, “but also, what is anymore?”
He said organizers are not sure how many people will attend, as they “have never held the rally under these conditions.”
After the event was delayed for two months due to the coronavirus pandemic, New Hampshire officials promised an abridged gathering. Laconia Mayor Andrew Hosmer (D) pledged on Monday that the rally “will take place in name only,” with a smaller crowd, no vendor tents and no concerts or fireworks displays.
Like Sturgis residents, 60 percent of whom disapproved of holding the rally in their town this year, many people in Laconia have said the event should not take place at all, the Laconia Daily Sun reported.
City Manager Scott Myers told the paper “the pictures coming from Sturgis are not helping” with officials’ attempts to make the case that a scaled-down event can take place safely.
But St. Clair, a Democratic state representative, wasn’t concerned about the photos of the mass of bikers sans masks packed along Sturgis’s main thoroughfare. He was there.
While riding his black 2000 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail motorcycle to his 44th Sturgis rally, St. Clair heard reports Sturgis was expected to attract about 250,000 motorcycle enthusiasts this year, about half of last year’s estimated attendance. He estimated the rally, which runs Aug. 7 to Aug. 16, was pared down even more than what was expected.
“The camping sites are always full,” he said. “This year that was not the case at all. There were many, many empty sites. From the visual eye, it was quite obvious there was a low attendance. They expected that, and we expect that at Laconia this year. No doubt about that.”
In addition to fewer attendees, St. Clair saw many people wearing masks, although he admitted he also saw people removing them in the summer heat.
Tens of thousands roared into the South Dakota town, home to fewer than 7,000 residents, beginning Friday to revel in the rally’s resemblance to regularity. Despite the predictions of lower turnout, traffic counts by the South Dakota Department of Transportation were down by only 6 percent during the first half of the 10-day run, city spokeswoman Christina Steele told The Post.
In a state that never enforced a coronavirus shutdown, attendees celebrated their individual liberties.
“Screw COVID,” a T-shirt sold at the event read. “I went to Sturgis.”
South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R) expressed pride over the gathering, telling Fox News her state has proved its capability to host large gatherings, such as President Trump’s Fourth of July fireworks show at Mount Rushmore, without concern that the virus will spread across state lines.
“We hope people come,” Noem said of the motorcycle rally. “Our economy benefits when people come and visit us.”
Meanwhile, health officials have already cited the Sturgis rally as a cause for concern.
“One of the things we’ve been very transparent about is any time you’re bringing people together — especially if you’re bringing individuals together from areas that might have higher risk of covid-19 in their general communities — that does pose a risk for covid-19 transmission,” state epidemiologist Joshua Clayton said in a news briefing last week.
Epidemiologists have warned that asymptomatic carriers can unwittingly infect others, propelling the pandemic when groups congregate.
South Dakota has reported 1,136 confirmed cases per 100,000 people, compared with New Hampshire’s 513 infections. In the past week, South Dakota’s average daily case count was 92 cases, compared with New Hampshire’s 24 cases.
St. Clair said he was able to easily keep his distance from others and felt fellow attendees should, too, adding that apathy about the threat of the virus “isn’t unique to motorcyclists.”
“There are a lot of people that think this is fake,” he said. “They’re all over the place, not just in Laconia and not in Sturgis, for that matter.”
Chelsea Janes contributed to this report.