Local sheriff says social distancing not a crime as people pack Lake of the Ozarks

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CAMDENTON, Mo. — The people who packed a swimming pool at the Lake of the Ozarks were not committing a crime, according to the Camden County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Tony Helms issued a statement Monday after pictures of a large pool party at Backwater Jacks Bar & Grill in Osage Beach went viral.

“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,” Helms said in a statement posted on Facebook.

RELATED: Lake of the Ozarks pool party draws packed crowd

He went on to note that public health violations fall under the jurisdiction of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

“Social distancing is not a crime and therefore the sheriff’s office has no authority to enforce actions in that regard.”

Missouri Governor Mike Parson re-opened businesses in the state May 4, but some guidelines are still in place, including social distancing at indoor and outdoor spaces.

Restaurants are also allowed to offer dine-in service, but tables are supposed to be placed 6 feet apart with no more than 10 people at a table, according to Missouri’s recovery plan.

The party drew a rebuke from state health officials and Missouri politicians.

“This Memorial Day, we caution that COVID-19 is still here, and social distancing needs to continue to prevent further spread of infections,” Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams said in a statement.

Video from the Lake of the Ozarks typically showed younger people. Williams said close contact, even in the outdoors, can lead to more infections, even among the young and healthy who may not experience 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,” Williams said.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, in a statement, called it “irresponsible and dangerous” to engage in such high-risk behavior.

“Now, these folks will be coming home to St. Louis and counties all over Missouri and the Midwest, raising concerns about the potential of more positive cases, hospitalizations, and tragically, deaths,” Krewson said in a statement. “It’s just deeply disturbing.”

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