The Coronavirus Outbreak

By Jacey Fortin and Johnny Diaz

“It’s irresponsible and dangerous to engage in such high risk behavior just to have some fun over the extended holiday weekend,” said the mayor of St. Louis.

People celebrated Memorial Day weekend at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.
People celebrated Memorial Day weekend at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.Credit...Twitter/Lawler50, via Reuters

After large crowds gathered at the Lake of the Ozarks over the Memorial Day weekend in defiance of Missouri’s social distancing guidelines, officials in two states urged those visitors to quarantine for two weeks, or until they tested negative for the coronavirus.

The visitors “showed no efforts to follow social distancing practices,” the St. Louis County Department of Health said in a statement on Monday, issuing a travel advisory for people who had been to the popular destination spot.

Video footage from one gathering showed a large crowd of people, most of them in bathing suits and without face masks, at a pool with music blaring overhead and yachts docked at a marina behind them. The videos spread widely on social media over the weekend.

The Lake of the Ozarks, a winding reservoir in the Ozark Mountains of central Missouri, is a tourist destination popular with residents of St. Louis, which is about 150 miles to the east. It draws visitors from across state lines as well.

“It’s irresponsible and dangerous to engage in such high risk behavior just to have some fun over the extended holiday weekend,” Lyda Krewson, the mayor of St. Louis, said in a statement on Tuesday.

“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,” she said. “It’s just deeply disturbing and threatens the progress we’ve all made together to flatten the curve.”

The Kansas department of health on Tuesday echoed that statement and urged state residents who had been there and did not observe social distancing practices to 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,” Dr. Lee A. Norman, the agency’s secretary, 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.”

On Tuesday, Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri said on Twitter that “there were some poor decisions that were made.”

“When social distancing is not followed, it is potentially dangerous for EVERYONE,” he said. “That said, the Lake of the Ozarks is a small sample of Missouri. While poor choices were made by some at the lake, there were many other Missourians across the state who did make safe and responsible choices over the holiday weekend.”

In a tweet on Monday, Ms. Krewson noted that asymptomatic people can spread the virus and put others at risk, adding that anyone who might have been exposed at the lake should contact the city’s department of health.

There have been at least 12,296 known cases of the coronavirus in Missouri, according to a New York Times database. As of Tuesday morning, at least 694 people had died.

Tony R. Helms, the sheriff of Camden County, which is one of several counties the lake touches, said in a statement on Monday that “there was a record weekend at the Lake of the Ozarks in the middle of a unique situation.”

And while deputies were busy keeping order this weekend, “social distancing is not a crime and therefore the sheriff’s office has no authority to enforce actions in that regard,” Mr. Helms said. “We expect residents and visitors to exhibit personal responsibility when at the lake.”

States have taken different approaches to reopening, and Missouri was among the states pressing ahead. Gov. Michael L. Parson, a Republican, allowed an array of businesses to open their doors beginning on May 4.

Several bars and restaurants on the lake had promoted events ahead of the holiday weekend.

One of them, Backwater Jack’s Bar and Grill, planned a “Zero Ducks Given Pool Party” on Saturday as a kickoff for summer. Ahead of the event, the organizers said the event would operate at reduced capacity, and provide temperature screenings and free hand sanitizer bottles at its entrance.

  • Updated May 26, 2020

    • If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Over 38 million people have filed for unemployment since March. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

    • There is an uptick in people reporting symptoms of chilblains, which are painful red or purple lesions that typically appear in the winter on fingers or toes. The lesions are emerging as yet another symptom of infection with the new coronavirus. Chilblains are caused by inflammation in small blood vessels in reaction to cold or damp conditions, but they are usually common in the coldest winter months. Federal health officials do not include toe lesions in the list of coronavirus symptoms, but some dermatologists are pushing for a change, saying so-called Covid toe should be sufficient grounds for testing.

    • The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.

The business declined to comment on Tuesday. Several others that had advertised open hours, events or parties for the Memorial Day weekend did not respond to requests for comment.

The state is now in the first phase of a reopening plan, under which residents are encouraged to stay six feet apart from one another and avoid large gatherings where distancing is impossible.

In its statement on Monday, the St. Louis County Department of Health said employers have asked county officials how they can reopen safely “when social distancing practices are not being followed.”

“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,” Dr. Sam Page, the St. Louis County executive, said in the statement.

The advisory highlighted recommendations that businesses screen employees for Covid-19 symptoms and consider asking them about their recent travels and social distancing efforts.

Dr. Randall W. Williams, the director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, also urged caution and reminded residents in a statement “that Covid-19 is still here, and social distancing needs to continue to prevent further spread of infections.”

But experts also expressed particular caution about outdoor dining, the use of locker rooms at pools, and crowds in places like beaches.

Jenny Gross contributed reporting