Large gatherings in Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks, which became nationally notorious for hosting crowded, mask-free pool parties over Memorial Day weekend, are once again putting public health officials on edge.
This time around, the event raising eyebrows is Bikefest, which typically draws upward of 100,000 bikers to the Ozarks region. Though it’s not yet clear how many bikers attended this year’s rally, which began Wednesday and wrapped up Sunday, the Kansas City Star estimated that the total was in the thousands.
Local and state officials largely did not require masks or social distancing for the rally or put any capacity limits on bars and restaurants. That has led experts to worry that the gathering could become another “superspreader” event like South Dakota’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, especially since the counties around Lake of the Ozarks are considered a “red zone” by the White House coronavirus task force.
As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted, Bikefest attendees could enter a lottery for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle by collecting “passport stamps” showing that they’d visited 24 restaurants and bars. “These events tend to draw many people into crowded spaces,” Steve Edwards, chief executive of local health-care system CoxHealth, told the paper. “It’s especially worrisome if participants gather indoors at bars and restaurants, which have proven to be high-risk areas.”
While the much-maligned Memorial Day parties didn’t seem to lead to a spike in infections, central Missouri now has a 19.3 percent positivity rate, nearly twice the statewide average. Meanwhile, the Ozarks region has witnessed one of its best summers on record, with some local officials attributing the surge in visitors to media attention. After Lake of the Ozarks appeared on TMZ, a businessman who owns vacation rentals in the area told the Star: “We were getting calls from all over. That was the best publicity that money could never buy.”