Health officials are urging self-quarantine for people who visited Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri over Memorial Day weekend, after videos showing large crowds gathering at the popular holiday destination went viral.
Despite Missouri’s guidelines to maintain social distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19 as part of its first phase in a reopening plan, video footage from crowded pools at Lake of the Ozarks showed hundreds of people standing close to each other, not wearing face masks.
In response to reports of people breaking social distancing protocols, St. Louis County issued a travel advisory for those who went to Lake of the Ozarks, asking anyone who ignored protective practices to self-quarantine for two weeks or until they test 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 Dr. Sam Page said in a statement.
Lake of the Ozarks, a resort destination with state parks, public beaches, and several pools, bars and restaurants, is a popular draw for people from Missouri and surrounding states. Doug Moore, spokesperson for the St. Louis County Executive’s office, tells TIME people “kick off the summer” at the vacation spot, and that the crowds seen in the area over Memorial Day weekend are typical for this time of year.
But now, with the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 nearing 100,000, Moore says the high number of people at Lake of the Ozarks were “clearly flouting every regulation, or strong suggestion, whatever you want to call it.”
Online, many Lake of the Ozarks visitors didn’t hide their participation in Memorial Day celebrations, and implied they knew about the social distancing guidelines. “You only live once,” wrote one Instagram user, posing with a group in a crowded pool, while another captioned a similar photo, “There is no such thing as bad publicity, sweetheart.”
Missouri has confirmed 12,291 coronavirus cases, and at least 686 people in the state have died. The state’s cumulative case count has increased from about 9,000 in early May to over 12,000 now, according to data from the health department.
While St. Louis County rebuked the behavior of any travelers from the area who did not follow social distancing guidelines, officials cannot force people to self-quarantine upon their return. “There’s no way to possibly enforce that,” Moore says, saying they can’t track every person who went to Lake of the Ozarks, or with whom they were in contact. “We’re just strongly encouraging people to do the right thing after doing something incredibly wrong.”
In neighboring Kansas, officials with the state Department of Health and Environment are trying a similar approach, recommending anyone who spent Memorial Day weekend at Lake of the Ozarks voluntarily self-quarantine for two weeks.
“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,” department secretary Dr. Lee Norman 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.”
Tony R. Helms, sheriff for Camden County, which includes part of Lake of the Ozarks, said in a statement on Monday that police do not have the authority to enforce social distancing because it doesn’t qualify as a crime.
“We expect residents and visitors alike to exhibit personal responsibility when at the lake,” he said. “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.”
“This has been a record weekend at the Lake of the Ozarks in the middle of a unique situation,” he added.
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