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Crowds Rush To Lake Of The Ozarks During The Memorial Day Weekend


Back here in the U.S., it was a busy weekend at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. That's a resort destination. And videos posted on social media showed that pools and bars there were packed with hundreds of people. The state of Missouri says restaurants can open as long as they follow strict distancing measures. Tables must be at least 6 feet apart. And that was not the case at many lakeside bars in Osage Beach.

We are joined now by that town's mayor, John Olivarri. Thanks for joining us.

JOHN OLIVARRI: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: Does it concern you that hundreds of people were packed together at these venues dancing and drinking without the social distancing that state regulations require?

OLIVARRI: Well, Mr. Shapiro, if I had to script the weekend, it wouldn't have been with that type of view. Social distancing is important. It's something that we follow, you know, here at the lake and have been. But this just happened to be one of those weekends - we have three major weekends during the summer. They're the holiday weekends - Memorial Day, Labor Day and the Fourth of July. And so these are generally very, very busy times for us. And they normally include the number of people that were seen in the types of videos, you know, that you're referring to.

SHAPIRO: Well, hotels say bookings were up a few days ago, so they knew the crowds were coming. Did businesses just make the decision that they would violate the state health orders rather than reduce the number of customers they could serve?

OLIVARRI: Well, I think you're going to have to, you know, ask the businesses that question. I think the answer to that is is that, you know, we knew that it was going to be difficult, you know, to manage the large crowd that was going to be down here this weekend. So I don't think you can put all of that necessarily on the backs of the businesses - I think the fact that, you know, our guests to the area, you know, also have a certain responsibility to go with that also.

SHAPIRO: But we've all been in bars, clubs, restaurants that have shut down. Maybe we all haven't. I've been in bars that have been shut down for violating local orders. I mean, why didn't that happen?

OLIVARRI: Well, actually, the - we have one order right now - the governor's order for the state of Missouri. We have had some previous orders, some public health orders that have expired. So basically, the governor's order indicates that the public health department is the one who will be responsible for enforcement. And you know, we support them when they request that help. But it's their call to make those decisions. I'm not trying to put (ph)...

SHAPIRO: Sounds like you're saying you don't necessarily object to the order but you're not going to be responsible for making sure that it's followed.

OLIVARRI: I'm just saying to you that it's not the responsibility of the city to enforce those orders in accordance with the governor's guidelines.

SHAPIRO: Your town has a tourism-driven economy. It's a few hours' drive from St. Louis, a few hours from Kansas City. Do you feel more cavalier about letting people crowd together at bars and restaurants because they're not locals and if they go home and infect their families or wind up in hospitals, it's not going to be your town's responsibility?

OLIVARRI: Wow. That's a - that's a pretty pointed question. And quite frankly, there's nothing cavalier about it. Not only do we have those people who go home, but don't forget we have our employees here that we have the same concerns about.

SHAPIRO: And so I just return to the question of why these crowds were allowed to congregate in the way they were.

OLIVARRI: Well, again, the direction from, you know, our health departments - you know, we didn't receive any calls. We weren't asked to assist in the enforcement of that. We have left, you know, the control - go ahead.

SHAPIRO: I'm afraid we're out of time.

Mayor John Olivarri of Osage Beach, Mo., thank you for joining us. And I'm sorry we have to leave it there.

OLIVARRI: All right. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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