About 300,000 people are expected to descend on Daytona Beach, Fla., this week for a large annual motorcycle rally called Bike Week that is taking place during a pandemic in a state with few restrictions to slow its spread.
Excitement about the event has been tempered by pushback from some motorcycle enthusiasts in a Facebook group dedicated to the rally who feared it could turn into a coronavirus superspreader event. Last August, the Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota drew more than 450,000 bikers, most of whom did not wear masks or appear to follow social-distancing guidelines.
The Sturgis rally was later blamed for outbreaks in other states.
Bike Week typically draws almost half a million people to the Daytona Beach area each year. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, the numbers are estimated to be lower this year — closer to 300,000 people, said Janet Kersey, the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“This year we know because of continued Covid concerns and the loss of income many have had over this past year it will be less,” she said, adding that good weather and the accelerating pace of vaccinations could cause that number to rise.
“While our community is working hard to follow C.D.C. safety guidelines, the support of the visitors and participants is important in these efforts as well for everyone’s safety,” she said.
At least 125 new coronavirus deaths and 4,426 new cases were reported in Florida on Tuesday, according to a New York Times database of Covid-19 infections and deaths. Over the past week, there has been an average of 4,948 cases per day in the state, a decrease of 16 percent from the average two weeks earlier.
A more contagious and possibly more lethal variant of the coronavirus, known as B.1.1.7, which was first spotted in Britain, is spreading more widely in Florida as a share of total cases than in any other state, according to an analysis of data from Helix, a lab testing company.
With this year’s event, which began on March 5 and runs through Sunday, Bike Week is celebrating the 80th anniversary of a gathering that has been billed as one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the country.
Events include races, bike exhibitions, concerts and giveaways in and around Daytona Beach, a popular Florida tourist area known for its hard-packed sand.
Ms. Kersey said that because of the pandemic, officials had considered canceling the event but said the Daytona Beach City Council was “very meticulous in its decision to move forward.”
The city announced changes that were being made to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 during the rally.
They include limited curbside parking on Main Street, a popular strip of bars and restaurants by the beach, “to allow for proper physical distancing.” Ms. Kersey said that the city had also added a motorcycles-only traffic area on Main Street for this year’s event.
Some businesses will be limited to 60 percent capacity, and merchants must follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for mask use and physical distancing, the city said.
Daytona Beach is in Volusia County, which is promoting a “Wash Up Back Up Mask Up” campaign on posters, billboards and signs, in an official pocket guide and on the Bike Week website “to help spread the word and encourage safety,” Ms. Kersey said.
Florida does not have a mask mandate and visitors are not required to quarantine upon arrival. The state has allowed restaurants and bars to operate at full capacity since September.
A Daytona Beach police spokesman, Messod Bendayan, said that on the first day of the rally, he did not see many bikers wearing masks on Main Street and did not think much had changed.
“If I saw five masks in the crowd, that would have been too much,” he said. “It looked about like any other year.”
Mr. Bendayan said police officers were also taking some precautions for the duration of the rally.
“The main one being limiting the number of officers physically responding to calls,” he said on Wednesday, adding that “we’re using drones to surveil crowds from above and respond physically if we see anything that requires our response.”
Some business owners said they appreciated the return of Bike Week.
Bobby Honeycutt, the owner of Froggy’s Saloon on Main Street, said he would follow the 60 percent indoor capacity rule.
“I got 32 cameras,” he told WESH-TV. “I can see what’s happening with the crowd. I can see if we’re getting overstuffed, but I also got people walking around. If it becomes an issue, they will stop people from coming in.”
On the Bike Week Facebook page, visitors and fans said they were excited for the rally, but some urged attendees to take precautions. One woman, for instance, implored visitors to wear a mask and to “be safe out there.”
Several worried that Bike Week would become the latest coronavirus superspreader event. A video posted on the Facebook page showed people walking and riding motorcycles near Main Street, some wearing masks and many going without.