CAMDEN COUNTY, Mo. — Photos showing people partying and ignoring social distancing guidelines at the Lake of the Ozarks this Memorial Day weekend went viral, but the Camden County sheriff said revelers broke no laws.
In a statement Monday, Sheriff Tony Helms said his department was busy keeping order in the county and enforcing laws, but that did not include enforcing social distancing and other measures intended to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
"Social distancing is not a crime and therefore the sheriff's office has no authority to enforce actions in that regard," Sheriff Tony Helms said in a statement Monday. "We expect residents and visitors alike to exhibit personal responsibility when at the lake."
His statement echoed that of Osage Beach Mayor John Olivarri Sunday. Olivarri said he's concerned about these customers, but they knew what they were getting into.
“This is one of our big weekends. Everyone knows that," he said Sunday. "So, if people made the conscientious decision to come down here and to participate at whatever level they elect to participate, they have made that decision.”
After photos and videos from Memorial Day weekend made waves nationally, some state and local leaders took harsher stances.
Dr. Randall Williams, the state's top health official, warned Missourians that COVID-19 is still in the state, and that the virus' effects could be felt by more than just the people seen in the photos and videos.
"The virus can be transmitted even among those young and healthy who aren’t experiencing symptoms. When they then carry the virus and transmit it to a more vulnerable person, this is when we tend to see the long-lasting and tragic impact of these decisions that are being made,” his statement said.
On Sunday night, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said the behavior seen in the photos and videos is irresponsible and dangerous and said it could cause problems throughout the area.
"Now, these folks will be going home to St. Louis and counties across Missouri and the Midwest, raising concerns about the potential of more positive cases, hospitalizations, and tragically, deaths," she said.
The St. Louis County Department of Public Health took that sentiment one step further by issuing a travel advisory for anyone who got out of town over the weekend and ignored social distancing guidelines. Under the advisory, people who ignored social distancing guidelines during a weekend getaway are urged to self-quarantine for 14 days or until testing negative for COVID-19.
“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,” County Executive Sam Page said in a statement.
After receiving questions from St. Louis County businesses, the health department has also added four suggested questions to the health screenings as more businesses begin reopening:
- Were those you traveled with or spent time with while away from home within 6 feet of others during your trip? Being within 6 feet of others increases your chances of getting infected and infecting others.
- Do you live with someone who is more likely to become ill from COVID-19? If you get infected while traveling you can spread COVID-19 to loved ones when you return, even if you don’t have symptoms.
- Are you or those you were traveling with more likely to become ill from COVID- 19? Older adults and people of any age who have a serious underlying medical condition are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
- If you get sick with COVID-19, will you have to miss work? People with COVID-19 disease need to stay home until they are no longer considered infectious, for at least 14 days.
Missouri is currently in the first phase of its Show Me Strong Recovery Plan. According to the reopening guidelines, Missouri residents should "avoid socializing in groups that do not readily allow for appropriate physical distancing (receptions, trade shows, etc.). When in public (parks, outdoor recreation spaces, shopping malls, etc.), individuals should maximize physical distance from others."