Washington Regional asks that Bikes, Blues & BBQ be postponed

Staff photo

Washington Regional Medical Center is asking that Bikes, Blues & BBQ be postponed this year due to a recent surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

David Ratcliff, chief medical officer of Washington Regional, said the hospital is not currently equipped to handle the annual motorcycle rally that’s set for Sept. 22-25 this year.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan and Public Health Officer Marti Sharkey, Ratcliff said the center is not able to ramp up its emergency department and trauma staff like it does each year in preparation for the event.

“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 said. “In short, our region’s hospitals have no way to accommodate the additional traumas that always occasion 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.”

Ratcliff said the emergency department is at capacity, and many patients are awaiting admission for beds that don’t currently exist. Critical care units are also at capacity for all patients, he said, and the forecast released this week by the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health does not predict any significant relief prior to the rally’s scheduled dates for this year.

Ratcliff’s letter follows Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Tuesday announcement that the state has run out of ICU beds for COVID-19 patients for the first time since the pandemic began.

Tommy Sisemore, the rally’s executive director, last month announced that the event would be relocated from Dickson Street to Baum-Walker Stadium on the University of Arkansas campus this year. The event usually sets up its main stage in the West Avenue parking lot across from the Walton Arts Center, but that area is set for construction of the new cultural arts corridor project. Sisemore said the construction is expected to displace the rally for at least two years.

It’s unclear just how much the city could do to postpone the event.

Susan Norton, the mayor’s chief of staff, said Wednesday that Bikes, Blues & BBQ did not apply for a permit to close Dickson Street this year since it will take place on university property. Any permits for use of public property, she said, would first have to approved by the City Council, and there are currently no requests in hand.

While the main stage will be moved to the university campus, vendors who sell ride wear, leathers, and apparel can still set up shop in private properties along Dickson Street.

Headlining musical acts for the 2021 rally were announced earlier this month, and include Arkansauce, the Mixtapes, a Tom Petty tribute, and Dead Metal Society.

The Flyer forwarded a copy of the letter to Sisemore on Wednesday afternoon and asked for comment. Sisemore said he’d just learned about the letter and would forward it to the rally’s board of directors for review.

A request for comment was also sent to the University of Arkansas Wednesday afternoon.

The city’s Board of Health is set to discuss the matter at its next regularly scheduled meeting at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Read Ratcliff’s full letter below: