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Hartmann: No Escaping Lake of the Ozarks Party Covid

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St. Louis was heavily involved in the nation’s top news story Sunday, and even if you missed it because our town was not directly mentioned, take pride that Missouri is finally getting noticed.

A slew of packed pool parties at the Lake of the Ozarks were the featured attraction at the websites of CNN, CBS News, the Washington Post, TMZ, the Boston Globe and so on. Missouri went viral as a citadel of selfishness.

It seems that boisterous partygoers were not content with mere euphoria over the official reopening of Missouri. No, they produced a cheap remake of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, filmed at multiple sites of the rollicking resort destination just as the United States approached the tragic landmark of 100,000 coronavirus deaths.

Tourists flooded bars and restaurants at the lake, with multiple videos showing unmistakably that social distancing was non-existent. One might have gleaned from the images that the wearing of masks had been banned.

People were on top of each other so blatantly that Missouri’s morons left those of the other 49 states in the dust. It took a display of both the brains and circumstance of sardines to catch this much attention in a country filled with defiant mouth-breathers joyfully celebrating their God-given right to spread disease. Especially on Sunday.

Actually, the attention was international if you count the UK’S tabloid Daily Mail story headlined, “Hundreds gather for a ‘Zero Ducks Given’ pool party in Missouri as the US sees wild Memorial Day blowouts after lockdown was eased.” It posted lots of videos and photos, from multiple bars, “that showed people inches away from one another at swim-up bars and bathing suit-clad drinkers hugging and dancing closely.”

At least the world no longer regards Missouri as some drab dirt path in flyover country. The state might become a vacation paradise of choice for mindless drunks the world over once the pandemic passes.

So, congratulations, Party Covid. You’re the envy of the undeveloped world.

Meanwhile, sheltering at home and social distancing from the story Sunday were Governor Mike Parson and his state health director Dr. Randall Williams, who could not be reached for comment by any of the world’s media. Williams finally issued a statement on Monday, warning that COVID-19 was still a danger and asking people to practice social distancing.

"The virus can be transmitted even among those young and healthy who aren’t experiencing symptoms," he said. "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."

Making this extra special was the context that Missouri ranks as the sixteenth worst state in “uncontrolled coronavirus spread” at epidemic levels, according to a study by researchers at Imperial College London, the Washington Post reported. The researchers created a model incorporating cellphone data that estimated viral spread as of May 17.

The study “highlights the risk of a second wave of infections in places that reopen too quickly or without sufficient precautions,” the Post reported. “This has become a geographically complex pandemic, one that will evolve, especially as people increase their movements in coming weeks.”

In that regard, St. Louis is about to receive a real-time geography lesson. The Lake of the Ozarks horror movie isn’t staying at the lake. It’s coming to a theater near you.

St. Louis is the closest major city to the Lake of the Ozarks – 165 miles versus 198 miles for Kansas City – and thousands of the area’s residents own or rent vacation homes, enjoy boating and otherwise flock to the popular spot. Therein lies the problem: A whole lot of those happy partiers risking their health and the health of others hail from the metropolitan area.

By the time you read this, they’ll have come home. Whether they packed the coronavirus inadvertently remains to be seen. What happens at the lake doesn’t stay at the lake if what happens is COVID-19.

That wasn’t lost on Mayor Lyda Krewson who, unlike state officials, was not shy in displaying her disgust:

"It's irresponsible and dangerous to engage in such high-risk behavior just to have some fun over the extended holiday weekend," she said. "Now, these folks will be going home to St. Louis and counties across Missouri and the Midwest, raising concerns about the potential of more positive cases, hospitalizations, and tragically, deaths. Deeply disturbing."

Krewson is right, but there’s little she can do about it. St. Louis is just part of Missouri and Missouri is just part of the nation. The economy couldn’t stay closed forever. Now that it’s reopening everywhere, no mayor is going to stop the runaway train, even if it’s a second wave.

No one knows how this nightmare will end. Regions like St. Louis are betting on the care, caution and compassion of local residents and businesses to keep the spread under control until effective treatment and a vaccine arrive. This weekend’s betting line: Take the under on collective IQ.

After all, we’re all connected as Missourians. That was part of us in the pool and on the national news. That was part of us groping each other in the viral images captured at Shady Gators and Backwater Jacks.

The connectivity wasn’t lost on a lake-area business owner, interviewed by KRCG-TV in Jefferson City, who had this to say about some of us.

“I don't know who they've been around, were they quarantined," Vicki Giampa of Blondie’s Burger Bar said. "Now with this weekend coming up, after this weekend, the next fourteen days, I am afraid of what any testing may bring up. You know, are we going to catch it, are our customers going to catch it, or are my employees going to catch it? It worries us a lot."

A friend who formerly lived in St. Louis and now resides at the Lake of the Ozarks is more worried about some of her neighbors than about us.

“I live here, Ray. Many residents aren't happy either! The community did a really great job until this last week when everyone decided that they just don't care. This is Trumpland and I hear the word 'hoax' often.”

President Clorox doesn’t wear a mask, and some of his patriots won’t either because it shows weakness and you should never trust science and if you let them take away your right to spread your germs, they’re coming for your guns next. But you don’t need to jump into the lake to find some of those folks. They’re in St. Louis, too.

We’re all connected as Missourians, and that even includes those two hair stylists who made the NBC national news Saturday for potentially exposing 140 customers and seven employees at a Great Clips in Springfield. They were working with COVID symptoms, although “very mild” in one case, we’re told. Very mild. Brilliant.

Parson might get around to saying something about that someday. After all, he grew up near Springfield and his Facebook page – not the place, apparently for a leadership message regarding the aforementioned national stories – did let us know the governor was in the area last Thursday, just as the hair salon infections were spreading.

Parson presided at his granddaughter’s live commencement ceremony, for a senior class of 42, at Sparta High School. Photos would indicate there was partial social distancing, masks optional. The governor didn’t appear to be wearing one. It was the sort of large gathering prohibited by almost all of Parson’s fellow governors.

That event took place just a little more than twenty miles from that Great Clips in Springfield. What could go wrong?

If any of that worries you, head to Parson’s official Twitter feed, which also eschewed any messaging about the scandals. But you can find a link to this: “Handling COVID-19 anxiety.”

Oh, what a state we’re in.

Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at rhartmann@sbcglobal.net or catch him on St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).

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