By Mary Hennigan
Amid a sharp surge in the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Arkansas won’t allow the Bikes, Blues and BBQ motorcycle rally on its property, a spokesperson said Thursday, a major setback for an event that attracts some 300,000 visitors to Northwest Arkansas.
The decision came after the Washington Regional Medical Center, a major hospital in the state, also urged Fayetteville city leads to halt the event due to the risk of COVID-19 and hospitals at full capacity, saying the region is “in the darkest hour of this public health emergency.”
David Ratcliff, the Fayetteville-based hospital’s chief medical officer, wrote that “our region’s hospitals have no way to accommodate that event, let alone the additional COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations that are likely to accompany an event where 300,000 congregate in close proximity.” The Fayetteville City Board of Health agreed Wednesday and recommended the organizers of the motorcycle rally cancel or postpone the event, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
The event was set to have its main stage located near the University of Arkansas’s Baum-Walker stadium from September 22 to 25. University officials discussed other options today, less than a month before the event, John Thomas, manager of university communications said.
“We believe it is in the best interest of the community that we terminate the license agreement that would have allowed organizers to use university parking lots for this year’s event,” Thomas wrote in an email.
The hospital’s letter and changes to the motorcycle rally came at a time of spiking COVID-19 cases across the state, with a concentration in Washington County, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. Since August 2, the county has reported more than 4,000 new infections and now has the second-highest number of active cases with 2,101, only after Pulaski County at 2,391 active cases.
“To hold such an event at a moment when our region’s healthcare systems are overwhelmed responding to the latest surge in hospitalizations resulting from the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus is to invite disaster,” Ratcliff wrote.
In addition, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday that ICU beds for COVID-19 patients are full across the state, emphasizing the strain placed on hospitals and the need for vaccinations.
(This post updates “Overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, Washington Regional staff requests to postpone Bikes, Blues and BBQ,” published earlier on Aug. 26).