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‘No laws were broken. Social distancing is not a crime’ | Owner of bar in viral photos from Lake of the Ozarks releases statement

The owner of Backwater Jacks said thermal checks were conducted and hand sanitizer was available upon entry

OSAGE BEACH, Mo. — The owner of one of the bars seen in viral photos from the Lake of the Ozarks has released a statement.

Memorial Day weekend is one of the busiest weekends for Lake of the Ozarks. This year – the area is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic like the rest of the country.

Photos that went viral over the holiday weekend showed people gathering at swim-up bars, outdoor restaurants and patios at several spots around Lake of the Ozarks.

Gary D. Prewitt, the owner of Backwater Jacks, released the following statement on the bar’s Facebook page Tuesday night:

“With the recent coverage of the Lake of the Ozarks this weekend, especially our venue, we would like to address the following:

1. No laws were broken. Social distancing is not a crime. As stated by the Camden County Sheriff:

"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. 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."

2. Non-contact thermal checks were conducted at both entrances to the pool by medical staff hired for the event. This upset many customers, however it was an additional layer we chose to implement. Anyone with above a 100.4 temperature was refused entry.

3. Personal bottles of FDA-approved hand sanitizer were made available for free to all attendees upon entry and for the duration of the event.

4. Despite false reporting, the name of the event "Zero Ducks Given" had absolutely nothing to do with the pandemic situation. This is the third year of the event series that takes place on each holiday weekend.

5. Unfortunately, our business is seasonal and nearly a third of our season has already been lost.

The initial shut down has already had a tremendous impact on many of our staff and their families. All staff were given a choice of whether they wanted to work without any negative consequences if they chose not to.

We understand that there are many emotions and feelings involved on every side of the pandemic situation. Any hateful messages attacking our business, our customers, our staff, or other businesses in our community will not be tolerated and removed from our social media. For our loyal customers who stand in support, thank you. For customers we may have lost, thank you for your previous patronage and we hope to win your business back in the future. We stand by our decision to move forward with Memorial Day Weekend plans. We love our customers and will continue to do our best to provide delicious food, drink, and entertainment at Backwater Jacks.”

The Camden County sheriff said the revelers did not break any laws.

"Social distancing is not a crime and therefore the sheriff's office has no authority to enforce actions in that regard," Sheriff Tony Helms said in a statement Monday. "We expect residents and visitors alike to exhibit personal responsibility when at the lake."

In a COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday, Missouri Gov. Parson addressed the photos. He said poor choices were made at the lake.

"There were some poor decisions that were made and social distancing was not followed," Gov. Parson said. "When social distancing is not followed it is potentially dangerous for everyone, especially our most at-risk individuals."

Parson stressed the need to follow social distancing guidelines, which call for staying 6 feet away from others and limit exposure to others when outside of your home.

Earlier this week, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page issued a travel advisory for county residents who traveled to the Lake of the Ozarks over the weekend.

Under the advisory, people who ignored social distancing guidelines during a holiday weekend getaway are urged to self-quarantine for 14 days or until testing negative for COVID-19.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson urged social distance rule breaks to self-quarantine as well.

“If you were part of a group that didn’t socially distance or wear masks, please, for the health of your family, coworkers and friends, stay home for the next 14 days,” Mayor Krewson said in a tweet Monday night.

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