As hundreds of thousands flocked to rural South Dakota for a motorcycle rally this month, sparking fears of a coronavirus super-spreader event, photos captured people crowding the streets without masks and packing local businesses – including a bar on Main Street, One-Eyed Jack’s Saloon.

Now state health officials say a person who visited One-Eyed Jack’s for about five hours has tested positive for the coronavirus, and could have transmitted the virus to others at the time.

Experts have singled out bars as places ripe for spreading COVID-19, and the exposures could be just the beginning of health consequences stemming from the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, a 10-day extravaganza that draws people from around the country and is hugely important to the local economy. With the coronavirus still rampant in many parts of the U.S. over the summer, most Sturgis residents polled by the city were against holding the rally from Aug. 7-16.

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Bikers ride through downtown Sturgis, S.D., on Friday, Aug. 7. AP Photo/Stephen Groves

But Christina Steele, a spokeswoman for the city of Sturgis, said Thursday that she’s not concerned by the news about the virus case, echoing the attitudes many bikers expressed at the rally. Local officials had asked visitors to social-distance and wear masks but did not mandate those precautions at one of the biggest public gatherings of the pandemic.

“It could be one or two, could be more,” Steele said of coronavirus cases linked to the event. “But you know, it’s to be expected. Coronavirus is in South Dakota. It has been for months.”

“It was a good rally,” she told The Washington Post. “People had fun.”

Few details on the infected person at One-Eyed Jack’s were available in a brief news release, and beyond that, the rally’s contributions to coronavirus exposures are not yet clear. Coronavirus symptoms can take from two to 14 days to show up after exposure, experts say, meaning that infections stemming from the event could still be emerging.

State health officials did not say where the person is from or how many people may have exposed at the bar or at the broader rally. According to Sturgis, 462,182 vehicles were counted entering its limits over the course of the event, representing just a 7.5% dip from last year’s traffic.

The person visited the saloon from noon to 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 11 while they were able to transmit the virus to others, the release states. Others who were there at the time should “monitor for symptoms” for 14 days, it adds.

The South Dakota Department of Health did not immediately answer questions about the case and any contact-tracing around it, but said it will address the matter at a news conference.

The state’s coronavirus dashboard shows that new, known coronavirus cases in Meade County, which includes Sturgis, have risen since the rally began, though daily cases remain in the single digits. While new infections have remained fairly steady for South Dakota as a whole over the past two weeks, average new infections in Meade County have ticked up from about two per day to four per day.

On Monday, the latest day for which data is posted, the county reported a record of nine new cases.

City officials are not involved in investigating COVID-19 exposures at One-Eyed Jack’s, said Steele, the city spokeswoman. She said she is not aware of other infected people at the rally.

While some residents expressed concerns during the rally to the media, decrying the absence of masks, Steele told The Post the city has not gotten many comments from residents, beyond her own chats with a couple of people who said they felt attendees were “relaxed and happy to be there.”


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