Here we go again.
We’ve been here before. Granted, it wasn’t in Daytona Beach, Florida. Instead, it was 2,000 miles away, in Sturgis, South Dakota. The 80th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally hosted 450,000 attendees and represented one of the largest superspreader events of the pandemic. The rally was responsible for 300 reported cases of COVID-19 and spread to over 20 states.
As Daytona Beach Bike Week wraps up its 80th annual celebration, it doesn’t look like we learned much from that experience. Local officials estimate that the 10-day festival will draw 300,000 people to Volusia County, Florida, by its March 14, 2021, end date. While Daytona Beach city leaders instituted a mask mandate and 60-percent capacity restrictions for local businesses, they’re also leaving it up to merchants to enforce.
“I think it’s going to be big. I think it’s going to look like the pandemic never surfaced,” said Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young, “We’re not out there looking to see how close people are standing together. That’s what the safety plan is supposed to do.”
To be fair, Daytona Beach isn’t in the same situation as Sturgis was last August. Back then, the vaccine hadn’t yet rolled out. However, the national infection rate is still higher now than any time during the Sturgis Rally, and Florida recorded at least 125 deaths and 4,426 new cases on Tuesday alone. While the pandemic’s atmosphere seems less dire at the moment, the data shows that Daytona Beach Bike Week could be more infectious than any motorcycle rally to date.
It’s obviously too late to shut down the event, but toothless rules and regulations don’t help either. Yes, local business owners need the revenue from Daytona Bike Week to stay afloat but putting the onus on them to uphold city mandates is like the fox guarding the henhouse. Are shop owners expected to toss paying customers out if they go over 60-percent capacity? Are they going to nag patrons to wear a mask or maintain social distance? With a clear conflict of interest, can anyone blame them if they don’t?
Police Chief Young went on to say, “If they need us to step in and maybe help clear them out a little bit so they can regain that 60 percent then we’d be willing to do so.”
By that point, it may be too late. Similarly, it may be too late to do anything about Daytona Bike Week and its superspreader status. Now, we’ll just have to hope that it doesn’t have the same reach or impact as the 2020 Sturgis Rally.