WOSTER: Tourism season is cause for concern
COMMENTARY

WOSTER: Tourism season is cause for concern

You’ll have to forgive me if I seem a bit distracted these days. I’m a little worried about the rally.

I’m worried about the entire tourism season, including that fireworks deal at Mount Rushmore that the president has promised to attend. But the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally serves as kind of the focal point for my concerns, much as it does each year for law-enforcement and health-care professionals.

And just imagine what they’re worried about this year, with the coronavirus around.

It’s still unclear what might be coming our way because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We learn more about the novel virus and its impacts each day. But we still don’t know much.

We do know that we don’t have a cure, or an effective treatment, or a vaccine. Not yet. We know the virus spreads easily and has a great range of medical effects, from almost nothing at all to potentially deadly breathing disorders.

We know it’s tougher on the elderly and those already sick. And we know, and Gov. Kristi Noem has said, that more cases and more hospitalizations and more deaths are coming. Based on state models, she predicts a peak in cases soon in Sioux Falls and sometime mid-June statewide.

Given what appears to be the slow rate of infections here, the peak in the Black Hills could be later than mid-June. Mid-July, maybe, or even later? Which makes me wonder: What if the Sturgis rally and the COVID peak converge? Are we prepared for that? Can we be?

Noem has said voluntary compliance with infection-control methods has slowed the rise in cases and hospitalizations. The projected-peak need for hospital beds has been reduced.

That’s good. But how do you model for the rally and its impacts? How do you set safety standards? What can they really be amidst the barely contained bedlam that ensues each rally season?

The rumbling hordes will be here sooner than it might seem. We are just a single sunrise short of Mother’s Day, which is just a couple of weeks short of Memorial Day Weekend, which is really the big kickoff to summer tourism.

And at this point Noem still hasn’t presented a state plan for the rally and the summer tourism influx. My friend Sam Hurst expressed concern weeks ago in an essay on his Facebook page about the apparent lack of a plan for the summer.

Since then, I’ve watched for details or even signs of a plan during the daily news conferences on COVID-19 held by Gov. Kristi Noem and other state officials. Nothing so far.

So this week I reached out to Noem’s senior adviser, Maggie Seidel, with a series of questions about summer tourism and the rally. They went unanswered. Seidel said it was too soon for details and urged me to be patient, indicating that something would be coming soon.

When I asked whether the state was actively engaged with regular rally planning in and around Sturgis, Seidel said, “We’re absolutely in the process of working with them.”

More will be known, she said, as testing ramps up and more people return to work and expand activities. Noem released a plan last week to begin that process, predicting an accompanying rise in COVID cases.

“The trajectory of cases a couple of weeks following the back-to-normal plan is going to be key to what you can expect over the summer,” Seidel said.

Your degree of concern about what’s coming this summer might depend on your age and your medical condition. I’m in pretty good condition, but I’m 68. So I’m supposed to be more careful and more worried than most younger folks.

But we should all be worried at least a little bit. And we should also be asking what Sam Hurst has been asking for weeks: Where’s the plan?

We need one, soon.

Kevin Woster writes a blog and offers radio commentary for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He can be reached by emailing kevinwoster@rushmore.com.

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