Missouri business owner defends hosting crowded Memorial Day pool parties


O’FALLON, Mo. (AP/Nexstar) — After video of the pool parties went viral over Memorial Day weekend, the owner of a business that hosted the crowds at Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks says no laws were broken. Owner Gary Prewitt says safety measures were in place to protect against the spread of the coronavirus.

Social media posts showed large crowds of mostly young people without masks not adhering to social distancing guidelines at pools along the central Missouri lake. The destination is a popular weekend getaway for the surrounding region. Many photos and videos showed people in an area of the lake nicknamed “Party Cove.”

Backwater Jacks, a bar and restaurant that has a pool, was among the places with big crowds. Owner Prewitt said in a statement that no laws were broken, though the images appear to show people violating Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s state order requiring social distancing.

Prewitt’s statement says 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.

Yet studies show asymptomatic transmission of the virus is very common, and people infected with the virus may not feel sick or know they are infected. Those people can then spread the virus to older adults and people with existing health problems who are more vulnerable.

The statement says 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 says.

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,” worrying that revelers would head home after being exposed to the coronavirus and unwittingly spreading it to others.

“The pictures that emerged from Lake of the Ozarks over the weekend were an international example of bad behavior,” said St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, a Democrat and medical doctor, on Wednesday.

Although Missouri’s social distancing order gives enforcement authority to both the state and local health departments, Gov. Parson says enforcement responsibility lies with local health departments.

The health director disagrees in one lake-area county, Osage, saying he has 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 six-foot social distancing through at least the end of May. St. Louis and St. Louis County are just now phasing in reopening because the virus has been 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.

Ballentine reported from Columbia, Mo.

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