LACONIA — Mayor Andrew Hosmer is seeking to reassure people that holding Laconia Motorcycle Week — now less than two weeks away — will not put people’s health at greater risk despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
But many local residents are not so sure.
In remarks during Monday’s City Council meeting, Hosmer said city officials are in regular contact with state public health officials, the governor’s office, and local medical experts as the city prepares to host the 97th rally which before COVID drew tens of thousands of bikers a year to the Lakes Region.
Promoters and city officials do not expect a turnout like that this time.
“It will take place in name only,” Hosmer told the council.
Police Chief Matt Canfield expects it will be no busier than this past Fourth of July weekend.
To underscore how this year’s rally has been scaled back significantly, the mayor cited several activities and features typical of past years which have been scrapped. The city denied an application for a fireworks display and is not allowing outdoor concerts, vendors, or motorcycle parking down the center of Lakeside Avenue in Weirs Beach.
“The city will not be participating in Motorcycle Week. We are still very cautious,” Hosmer said.
The mayor is expected to reiterate those points when he and other city officials speak at a news conference scheduled for Wednesday at 10 a.m. The news conference will be carried live by Lakes Region Public Access.
But many local residents believe that, despite the scaling back, it is irresponsible to hold the event during a pandemic which is caused by a virus which spreads when infected people are in close contact with others.
Tuesday’s Daily Sun contained about half of the responses the paper received to its “Question of the Week” which asked what readers thought of the decision to hold Motorcycle Week this year.
“There was not one person who responded who was in favor of it,” Roger Carroll, the paper’s managing editor said of the 30-plus comments the paper received, a number that Carroll called “a very strong response.”
Many said letting the rally proceed unnecessarily jeopardizes the significant progress that has been made in reducing the number of COVID cases around the state. In addition, some readers pointed to the behavior of many attending the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally now taking place in South Dakota with thousands of riders flouting the standard COVID-19 precautions of wearing face masks, and practicing social distancing. Many of those in Sturgis have been sporting T-shirts with the message, “Screw COVID. I went to Sturgis.”
City Manager Scott Myers on Tuesday acknowledged those optics are undermining local officials’ ability to convince residents that the precautions being taken for this year’s Motorcycle Week are adequate to protect public health.
“The pictures coming from Sturgis are not helping,” Myers said.
Myers said that whereas Sturgis has vendor booths, outdoor entertainment and beer tents, Laconia Motorcycle Week will have none of them.
“People need to look at what is and what is not occurring,” Myers said in an effort to counter what he sees as a growing public misperception “that we are going above and beyond to bring in more people.”
Hosmer said the city is doing what it can to support businesses that were hit especially hard by COVID restrictions during the spring.
“We don’t want to unduly impact area businesses,” he said.
Hosmer pointed out that a 14-day quarantine is still required for visitors from outside New England. Under the state’s COVID regulations, those travelers need to attest when checking into a lodging establishment that they have remained at home for at least 14 days before coming into the state.