By Mary Hennigan
Bikes, Blues and BBQ organizers postponed Fayetteville’s annual motorcycle rally after a major hospital, city health officials and the University of Arkansas expressed concern the event, which attracts some 300,000 visitors to Northwest Arkansas, would overtax a medical system overrun by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At this time Bikes, Blues and BBQ organizers do not feel they can offer a quality event with such massive changes on a short notice,” Tommy Sisemore, the motorcycle rally’s executive director, said in a statement.
First, Washington Regional asked the City of Fayetteville to postpone the event Wednesday 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.
Then, University of Arkansas officials decided Thursday afternoon to no longer allow the rally on its property. “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,” John Thomas, manager of university communications, wrote in an email.
The letters 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 2,100, only after Pulaski County at 2,343 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 “Amid COVID-19 Surge, University of Arkansas Won’t Allow Motorcycle Rally on Its Property,” published on Aug. 26).