Sheriff responds to crowded bars, restaurants at Lake of the Ozarks

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KY3/AP) - The coronavirus pandemic put the Lake of the Ozarks in the national spotlight over the Memorial Day weekend. And the Camden County sheriff is responding.

Crowds flooded bars and restaurants at the Lake of the Ozarks, which attracts Missouri residents, as well as people in surrounding states, including Illinois, Kansas, Arkansas and Iowa. One video posted on social media shows a crammed pool where lakers lounged close together without masks.

"Camden County is a tourism-driven economy and each business is working hard to follow the state's guidelines and protect their patrons and staff," said Camden County Sheriff Tony Helms. "Those who frequented the businesses, bars and restaurants at the lake this weekend made a conscious decision to attend each even and frequent each location. It was the right and responsibility of each individual who made those decisions to assess the risks inherent to those decisions."

Missouri’s statewide stay-at-home order expired earlier this month, but an order from the state health director requires six-foot social distancing until at least the end of May. The order leaves it up to local and state health officials to enforce social distancing.

"Social distancing is not a crime and therefore the sheriff's office has no authority to enforce actions in that regard," said Sheriff Helms. "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. We need to trust, engage and empower Missourians to continue health safety measures while adjustments to restrictions are considered and being implemented."

Since the pandemic first hit Missouri, the state health department has reported 38 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 35 recoveries in Camden County.

Copyright 2020 KY3. All rights reserved. The Associated Press also contributed to this story.