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Two auto races in South Dakota are expected to draw hundreds of fans this weekend, even though the state’s governor is against both events over concerns they could contribute to a possible spike in coronavirus cases.
Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, has not elected to stop the races slated for Saturday and Sunday nights, even though they contradict her executive order encouraging social distancing. She has not said why she won’t shut down both events.
“I can encourage people not to go,” Noem said during a Tuesday press conference. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for them to attend. I still recommend that we follow the plans that I have laid out for South Dakota where we don’t gather in sizes of over 10 and that folks continue to social distance if they’re not feeling well to stay home and to wash their hands.”
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The speedways in Jefferson County, just over the border from Iowa, sold only a limited number of tickets. Saturday’s race at Park Jefferson International Speedway sold out of the 700 tickets it offered for a track that usually holds 4,000, according to a post on its Facebook page. The Sunday race at New Raceway Park is offering 500 tickets for a track with a capacity of 1,800, it also wrote on Facebook.
County officials are powerless to stop the races. Noem said legislation to give counties some authorities given to cities that would prohibit similar events failed.
Race organizers said they are taking steps to lower the chances of attendees contracting the virus.
“Of course safety is my biggest concern about running this event,” Steve Kiraly, owner of New Raceway Park, told KMEG-TV. “We are going to have hand sanitizer located strategically throughout the track.
“We have social separation going on as well,” he added.
Fans at the Speedway will sit six feet apart from each other in the grandstands and refunds will be given to anyone having second thoughts on attending.
Dennis Moore, the organizer for Sunday’s race, stressed the economy needs a boost after weeks of decline.
“This country’s going to be on its butt if we don’t open this up,” he said.
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South Dakota had 1,858 known COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday, including nine deaths, according to the state Department of Health.
The events come as state governments are increasingly under pressure to ease restrictions and open up their economies, even as the pandemic continues to spread. Jerry Miller, the state’s attorney for South Dakota’s Union County, said holding the races was “risky and irresponsible.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.