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Bikefest Draws Thousands To Lake Of The Ozarks; Health Officials Warn Of 'Virus Superspreader'

Thousands of bikers are cruising to Lake of the Ozarks this weekend for Bikefest, one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the Midwest.

Public health officials warn the 14th annual rally could become a “virus superspreader” event. Bikefest started on Wednesday and has partnered with more than 300 local businesses, including bars and restaurants. More than 125,000 people attended last year’s event, according to Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitor Bureau officials. People from Texas, Iowa and Nebraska commented on the event’s Facebook page that they would be attending.

Missouri’s rural counties are experiencing the fastest growth in COVID-19 cases per capita in the state right now, said Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.

Garza called the rally “concerning” during his regular task force briefing Friday. “It has nothing to do with it being a bike rally, it has to do with large numbers of people coming together in an area where we know there’s high concentration of virus and having few mitigation strategies and then dispersing out into multiple different communities.”

Gov. Mike Parson has not issued increased restrictions — such as requiring masks or capacity limits — for the event. Neither have Camden nor Miller counties, where the event is taking place.

Bikefest organizers did not respond to an interview request Friday. Neither did the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Service, the Osage Beach mayor nor Camden County commissioner.

The number of people testing positive for the coronavirus in Miller County has increased by 47% in the last two weeks and by 32% in Camden County over the same period. The two counties have had around 1,000 cases total.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in the central region of the state have also risen in record numbers since the pandemic began. Eighty-nine people with COVID-19 were hospitalized on Sept. 15.

Bikefest comes about a month after the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota in August. COVID-19 cases increased sharply in both North Dakota and South Dakota after the rally. An estimated 450,000 bikers converged at the event.

Those states now rank first and second nationwide for coronavirus cases per capita over the past week, according to the New York Times. Public health officials credit the rally, in part, for the rise and are calling the rally a “superspreading event.”

Missouri has had the fifth-most cases per capita in the past week, according to the Times’ data.

Garza said Bikefest’s relaxed approach and the relative high level of transmission in rural counties “create a perfect storm for a virus superspreader.”

Follow Kayla on Twitter: @_kayladrake

Kayla is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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