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Bikefest in Lake of the Ozarks expected to draw thousands, spurring virus concerns

NBC News logo NBC News 9/19/2020 Minyvonne Burke and The Associated Press
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - SEPTEMBER 16: General view of a near empty Reforma avenue during the 210th anniversary of the Independence of Mexico on September 16, 2020 in Mexico City, Mexico. This year El Zocalo remains closed for general public due to coronavirus restrictions. Every September 16 Mexico celebrates the beginning of the revolution uprising of 1810. (Photo by Clasos/Getty Images) © Getty MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - SEPTEMBER 16: General view of a near empty Reforma avenue during the 210th anniversary of the Independence of Mexico on September 16, 2020 in Mexico City, Mexico. This year El Zocalo remains closed for general public due to coronavirus restrictions. Every September 16 Mexico celebrates the beginning of the revolution uprising of 1810. (Photo by Clasos/Getty Images)

Tens of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts are expected to gather in Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri for an annual Bikefest at a time when the state is seeing a rise in coronavirus cases.

The five-day festival that attracts motorcycle riders from around the U.S. began Wednesday and ends Sunday. Last year's Bikefest Lake of the Ozarks drew about 125,000 people.

Lake Ozark Mayor Gerry Murawski told the Kansas City Star on Thursday that he's not sure how many people will show up in light of the pandemic.

"This year, I don’t know what to expect. There’s nothing that’s the same," he said.

“But this is our last event of the year and I keep thinking, ‘Let’s just get through this,’ and then we can quite frankly go to sleep for a few months,” the mayor added. “And hopefully by next year it’s gone. Probably not, though.”

He said he hopes attendees will wear face coverings, but has doubts because bikers typically don't wear masks. “It’s just that’s the way they are."

Missouri lifted its coronavirus restrictions in June when the state had just over 16,000 confirmed cases. In a Sept. 18 update, the state Department of Health and Senior Services reported 1,795 new cases that bring the total to 110,129.

There have been 1,780 deaths in the state as of Friday.

Bikefest has spurred concerns that it could lead to an increased spread of the virus.

“These events tend to draw many people into crowded spaces. It’s especially worrisome if participants gather indoors at bars and restaurants which have proven to be high-risk areas,” said Steve Edwards, chief executive of CoxHealth, a hospital system based in Springfield.

Edwards said the festival could lead to more coronavirus infections in Missouri and other states where attendees have traveled from. “It is reckless," he said.

By Thursday, the second day of the festival, bikers were packed into bars and restaurants in Lake Ozark with hundreds of riders parked outside, according to the Kansas City Star. Only a handful of tourists were seen wearing face masks.

“I know I should be wearing a mask, but I’m not too concerned about it," attendee Vance Scovel told the Kansas City Star.

Scovel said he and his wife traveled from their home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to attend Bikefest. The couple said they also went to last month's Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota with no problems and are taking safety precautions.

“I love it,” he said of Bikefest. “We heard it might be a couple hundred thousand by the weekend.”

The Sturgis rally, which ran from Aug. 7 to Aug. 16, drew more than 460,000 vehicles, the South Dakota Transportation Department said. Coronavirus outbreaks linked to the rally have been reported in at least eight states — South and North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

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