In outrage over Lake of the Ozarks parties, St. Louis County and state ask revelers to quarantine


A screenshot from a video posted on Twitter of the parties at Lake of the Ozarks.

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

St. Louis County and the states of Missouri and Kansas have issued travel advisories and quarantine requests for anyone who traveled to the Lake of the Ozarks over Memorial Day weekend and did not socially distance.

Anyone who had close contact with others without the recommended precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic is asked to self-quarantine for 14 days in requests issued by two state health directors and St. Louis County. In the county, which is just hours from the Ozarks but has had the most cases of any area in the state, the request went farther to state that anyone who did not socially distance over Memorial Day should self-quarantine for two weeks.

Photos of raucous parties with revelers seemingly oblivious to the global health pandemic in bathing suits and no masks or any other types of social distancing emerged this weekend from Memorial Day weekend celebrations in the Lake of the Ozarks, making the rounds on social media and news nationwide.

Missouri has at least 12,291 positive cases of the coronavirus, with at least 686 deaths. Of the total deaths, 386 happened in St. Louis County, which has at least 4,583 cases along with roughly 1,700 in the city of St. Louis. In comparison, Camden County, which covers part of Lake of the Ozarks, has had 37 reported cases and one death.

A stay-at-home order for St. Louis County just began to lift one week ago, although some businesses are still required to stay shut down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

In the new advisory issued to businesses, the county Department of Public Health said that “many members of the public and employers” have asked how businesses can reopen safely considering that employees may have traveled to the Lake of the Ozarks or otherwise celebrated Memorial Day without social distancing.

County Executive Sam Page said in light of the “reckless” behavior shown over the holiday weekend, he asked the Department of Public Health to issue a travel advisory “as some workers return to their jobs after ignoring social distance practices outlined by public health experts to protect against COVID-19,” the county said in its announcement. “Recent news reports indicate that many people, including those from the St. Louis region, did not follow any protective practices over the holiday weekend. Large crowds at Lake of the Ozarks showed no efforts to follow social distancing practices essential to curbing the spread of the virus. As a result, many members of the public and employers have asked St. Louis County how to best proceed in safely opening their businesses when social distancing practices are not being followed.”

Page said in the release, “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. I encourage everyone to follow the Department of Public Health advisory to determine a safe path forward in the workplace.”

Kansas also issued a travel advisory for Kansans who had attended parties at Lake of the Ozarks and had not kept their distance, asking them to voluntary self-quarantine for the two weeks necessary to know they cannot spread COVID-19 to anyone else.

“The reckless behavior displayed during this weekend risks setting our community back substantially for the progress we’ve already made in slowing the spread of COVID-19,” Dr. Lee Norman, head of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said in a statement. “If you traveled to Lake of the Ozarks over the weekend, we urge you to act responsibly and self-quarantine to protect your neighbors, co-workers and family.”

After the images first emerged on news networks over the weekend, Dr. Randall Williams, head of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, issued a statement: “This Memorial Day, we caution that COVID-19 is still here, and social distancing needs to continue to prevent further spread of infections. Close contact with others even if you are in the outdoors is still considered close contact and can lead to more infections as we still have new cases of COVID-19 being detected each day in Missouri. 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.”

On Twitter, Gov. Mike Parson said that Lake of the Ozarks is just one small part of Missouri, but he is disappointed in the behavior.

“Unfortunately, there were some poor decisions that were made, and social distancing was not followed. When social distancing is not followed, it is potentially dangerous for EVERYONE,” the governor tweeted. He reopened most businesses in the state as of May 4.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, who has changed her Twitter profile photo to show her wearing a mask, begged partygoers who might have been exposed to stay home for the next 14 days and contact the city’s health department.

Camden County Sheriff Tony R. Helms issued a statement saying that any enforcement of Missouri’s social distancing guidelines is up to the state Department of Health and Senior Services, not local law enforcement: “This has been a record weekend at the Lake of the Ozarks in a unique situation. Given the huge influx of people, the Camden County Sheriff’s Office has been busy keeping order…. Those who frequented the businesses, bars and restaurants at the lake this weekend made a conscious decision to attend each event and frequent each location. It was the right and responsibility of each individual who made those decisions to access the risks inherent to those decisions.”

Helms continued, “Social distancing is not a crime and therefore the sheriff’s office has no authority to enforce actions in that regard. We expect residents and visitors alike to exhibit personal responsibility when at the lake. We also respect the right of citizens to move freely around the lake and take responsibility to protect themselves from any expected dangers related to COVID-19.”

Current St. Louis County guidance recommends that employers screen employees for health risks.

Employers also should consider adding a question related to recent travels and social distancing behaviors, the county said.

Here are four questions the county said businesses should consider as they 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.