The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t stopped an annual biker rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, from taking place, and now experts fear it could become the next super-spreader event.

Every year, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally draws hundreds of thousands of attendees. The 10-day event is expected to see 250,000 bikers come through town this year — about half the event’s normal size, but still one of the largest gatherings in the United States since the country began taking precautions against the pandemic earlier this year.

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Attendees began flooding the small town on Friday, with very few wearing masks and no social distancing in play.

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“I don’t want to die, but I don’t want to be cooped up all my life either,” said Stephen Sample, who drove up to the rally from Arizona.

South Dakota has been notoriously lax in its guidelines for dealing with COVID-19, with no mask requirements in place statewide. So far, the gamble hasn’t cost them — the state has only seen around 150 deaths from the virus and new cases have mostly hovered somewhere between 40 and 100 per day.

But the rally in Sturgis could change that. 

Experts believe COVID-19 is less likely to spread outdoors, but maskless bikers are not only crowding together to weave through booths set up by outdoor vendors, they are also cramming into diners, bars, hotels, and music venues throughout the 10-day event.

“I’m less concerned of people riding their bikes through the hills than I am about what happens at night in bars and restaurants and hotels and on the streets in close quarters,” said CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner. “When you look at the videos from Sturgis now, there are very few people wearing masks. We know it’s super-contagious, and it will spread from person to person who will take it back to their homes.”

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The rally draws big names every year, and this year is no different. Bikers have already crowded together to see acts like The Guess Who, Molly Hatchet, and ZZ Top tribute band ZZ3, and will continue to pack themselves into music venues to watch performances from Smash Mouth, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and more.

“We are allowed to make our own choices,” one attendee, Amy Svoboda, told The New York Times. “If we get it, we chose to be here.”

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*First Published: August 10, 2020, 5:45 am