Social media postings over the weekend showed large crowds of mostly young people without masks and not adhering to social distancing guidelines at pools along the central Missouri lake that is a popular weekend getaway for people in the state and the surrounding region. Many of photos and videos showed people in an area of the lake nicknamed “Party Cove.”
Political leaders in St. Louis, St. Louis County and Kansas City, along with Kansas’ health secretary, encouraged 14-day self-quarantines for anyone involved in the parties. Some labeled the gatherings “reckless” and worried that revelers would return home after becoming unwittingly exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 and potentially spread it to others.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, a Democrat and a medical doctor, noted studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. Those people can then spread the virus to older adults and people with existing health problems who are more vulnerable to more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
“The pictures that emerged from Lake of the Ozarks over the weekend were an international example of bad behavior,” Page said Wednesday. Backwater Jacks, a bar and restaurant that has a pool, was among the places with big crowds. Owner Gary Prewitt said in a statement that no laws were broken, though the images appeared to show people violating Republican Gov. Mike Parson's state order requiring social distancing.
Prewitt's statement said temperatures were checked at the pool entrance by medical staff hired for the event and free bottles of hand sanitizer were distributed. Staff members were given the option not to work.
The statement noted that the business is seasonal and about one-third of its busy season has already been lost due to coronavirus-related closures. “We stand by our decision to move forward with Memorial Day Weekend plans,” Prewitt’s statement said.
Although Missouri’s social distancing order gives enforcement authority to both the state and local health departments, Parson has said enforcement responsibility lies with local health departments. The health director in one lake-area county, Morgan, said he had no enforcement authority. The health director in Camden County, where Backwater Jacks is located, did not respond to email messages seeking comment.
Parson allowed businesses and attractions to reopen May 4, but the state order requires 6-foot (2-meter) social distancing through at least the end of May. St. Louis and St. Louis County are just now phasing in reopening because COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, was so devastating there. More than half of Missouri’s confirmed cases have occurred in those locations, along with more than two-thirds of the state’s deaths.
The state health department on Wednesday reported 201 new cases, bringing the total to 12,492, and 10 more deaths, reaching 696. Parson, asked during his afternoon news conference if the state would make layoffs due to the economic fallout of the shutdown, said it's too early to know but didn't rule it out.
“Everything's going to be on the table right now to make the budget balance,” Parson said.
Ballentine reported from Columbia, Mo.
This story has been corrected to show that one of the counties where incidents occurred was in Morgan, not Osage.