JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Leaders in Kansas City, St. Louis and the state of Kansas urged people who partied close together at Lake of the Ozarks over the Memorial Day weekend to self-quarantine for two weeks, amid fears that the gatherings documented in social media postings will lead to a resurgence of the coronavirus.
Big crowds were reported at swimming pools, bars and restaurants at the central Missouri lake that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Video and photos posted on social media showed people without masks partying and swimming together in close proximity, seemingly ignoring guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and from the state, to keep at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart. At least some of the images showed people in the Anderson Hollow Cove area of the man-made lake that's been nicknamed “Party Cove.”
It appeared unlikely any businesses or individual would face reprimand. Although Missouri’s social distancing order gives enforcement authority to both the state and local health departments, Republican Gov. Mike Parson said enforcement responsibility lies with the local departments.
“I’m not going to send the National Guard, I am not going to send the Highway Patrol to monitor this,” Parson said at a news conference, where he expressed disappointment for the disregard for social distancing at the lake.
The incidents took place mostly in Osage and Camden counties. Osage County has had so few coronavirus cases that an ordinance allowing for enforcement lapsed last month, Health Administrator Shawn Brantley said. Camden County's health director did not respond to an email message seeking comment.
“The problem is everybody’s going back home,” Parson said. “Everybody’s going back to different districts, different towns and everything, which kind of complicated the issue to say the least.”
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page asked his local health department to issue a travel advisory, saying the activity at the lake raised new concerns just as the county was beginning to reopen after weeks of closure.
“This reckless behavior endangers countless people and risks setting us back substantially from the progress we have made in slowing the spread of COVID-19,” Page, a Democrat, said in a statement.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, both Democrats, took to Twitter to express their disappointment with the close-together crowds at the lake, which draws significantly from the metropolitan areas on both sides of the state, as well as from neighboring states, including Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas and Iowa.
“If you were part of a group that didn’t socially distance or wear masks, please, for the health of your family, coworkers and friends, stay home for the next 14 days,” Krewson wrote in one tweet.
Kansas City Health Director Rex Archer echoed Krewson’s call for a 14-day self-quarantine for anyone who failed to practice social distancing at the lake, as did the Kansas health department.
Parson allowed businesses and attractions to reopen May 4, but the state order requires 6-foot 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 12,291 confirmed cases have occurred in those locations, along with more than two-thirds of the state’s 686 deaths.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in a few weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Missouri’s health director, Randall Williams, said his office will work with health officials around the Lake of the Ozarks to determine whether additional testing should be conducted in the coming weeks.
Parson emphasized that many Missourians made “safe and responsible choices” in gatherings throughout the holiday weekend. Parson said he was able to go to his home church, which accommodated attendees by providing three services and escorting people to seats to ensure separation.
Salter reported from O'Fallon, Mo.