It has been almost a year since Albert Aguirre, 40, was found dead at his home in Vermillion, South Dakota, and Van Balen’s long excursion this week was a celebration of the free spirit and the love of the outdoors from his longtime friend.
But Van Balen won’t stop at South Dakota’s annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which Aguirre attended about a month before he died on September 10 from what authorities have listed as Covid-19.
“Too much risk,” said Van Balen, 42, of the rally, which was attended by 460,000 people in 2020, which infectious disease experts compared to “a wide spread event.”
“It’s definitely an uplifting tale,” Van Balen said of his friend’s death.
“Everyone wants to be free”
Steve Sample, a 67-year-old land surveyor from Arizona, will attend the 81st Annual Sturgis Gathering. This is his fifth year in a row, and he will be there with his wife, who is vaccinated against Covid-19, he said. He is not.
“I will go there every year until I die, whether Covid kills me or there is a head-on collision,” he said. “I am like this.”
“The Sturgis gathering exhibited many characteristics of a mass-market event: large crowds, high intensity of person-to-person contact, potential for highly infectious individuals traveling from hot spots and events in poor indoor environments. broken down, âthe report says.
Of those 86 cases, four people were hospitalized and one died, according to the report.
âI didn’t see a single mask on anyone and was there for 10 days,â Sample said. “Everyone wants to be free.”
“There is a risk associated with everything”
“We continue to encourage people to say that if they don’t have immunity and if they are in a high risk category, it is probably not wise for them to come,” a- he declared. “And we certainly don’t encourage people who have multiple high-risk categories to attend.”
Sturgis, the South Dakota Department of Health and Monument Health announced this week that Covid-19 self-test kits will be made available to rally attendees. Additionally, Ainslie said, hand sanitizing stations have been installed in downtown Sturgis for months.
South Dakota placed few restrictions on businesses during the pandemic and, at the last rally, there were no state, county or city mask warrants in effect, according to the CDC report.
Even when cases increased in his state last November, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem refused to impose masks or put in place measures that many other governors have taken to slow the spread. She insisted her condition had been most effective in quickly identifying and isolating cases
The governor is a strong supporter of the rally, saying that in order to organize events like this, people should be provided with information that allows them to protect their health while enjoying their way of life.
âThe Sturgis Rally is all about jumping on your bike and exploring this great country through our open roads,â Noem said via Twitter on Wednesday.
“Bikers come here because they WANT to be here. And we love to see them! There’s a risk associated with everything we do in life. Bikers get it better than anyone.”
“You need less time to breathe this air to be infected”
The rally means a lot of money to the local economy, generating more than $ 500 million in sales each year in South Dakota, according to Ainslie. It features drag races, charity rides, rock concerts, pub crawls, tattoo contests, and Harley-Davidson processions through the Black Hills mountain range. A popular t-shirt last year read, “Screw COVID. I went to Sturgis.”
âPeople come here because they are free from all of this unnecessary government political control over their lives,â said Rod Woodruff, owner of the Sturgis Buffalo Chip Campground about three miles outside of town.
Woodruff said he was not aware of a single case of Covid-19 dating back to the rally.
âAll these people hereâ¦ know all the bullshit, all the nonsense that has gone back and forth about how dangerous all these invisible things and viruses are,â he said. “Everyone is aware of all of this and they took the risk of leaving their homes and running away and going somewhere else and spending time with like-minded people.”
The dangerous Delta variant has fueled the country’s latest wave and infectious disease experts warn that if more Americans don’t get vaccinated and wear masks, the country could soon see several hundred thousand cases a day.
âPeople often associate Sturgis outdoors on the bike,â said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
âIt makes it hard to imagine why there would be an increased risk of potential COVID transmission. But that’s what is done in Sturgis. It’s indoors, in bars. It’s in lounges. tattooing. It’s in all the indoor activities that really put people at increased risk. “
Osterholm said any activity indoors involving crowds put people at risk.
âThis means you need less time to breathe this air to get infected yourself,â he said. “Whereas even now what might have been a 15 minute indoor exposure in a given environment may now be only five minutes.”
After returning home to Vermillion after the Sturgis rally Aug. 7-16 and a trip to Oklahoma, Aguirre was found dead at his home in September, according to friends and Clay County Sheriff Andy Howe.
The sheriff said authorities do not know how and where Aguirre contracted Covid-19. No autopsy was performed after a posthumous test came back positive for the virus, Howe said.
âSince coming back positive, this is what we have determined to be the cause of death,â Howe said, referring to Covid-19.
Van Balen and other friends suspect Aguirre of having fallen ill in Sturgis. Some even urged him to stay away.
“We tried to warn him: maybe not go this year. Or if you go, wear your mask,” recalls Van Balen as he celebrated his friend’s life with one last trip. on the road. “But he was living his life. It frustrated a lot of us. He wasn’t one of the lucky ones.”