A Lake of the Ozarks bar owner is making no apologies for hosting a Memorial Day weekend pool party where guests showed little regard for social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement Tuesday, Gary Prewitt, the owner of Backwater Jack’s Bar & Grill in Osage Beach, stood by the decision to host the party Saturday and said plenty of reasonable precautions were taken.
For instance, he said, “medical staff hired for the event” conducted temperature checks at pool entrances and turned away anyone with a fever.
“This upset many customers, however it is was an additional layer we chose to implement,” Prewitt wrote.
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He also pointed out that personal bottles of hand sanitizer were made available for free to all attendees.
Neither would eliminate the threat of virus spread.
People can carry the virus without a fever, especially in the early days of infection, and hand sanitizer doesn’t protect against breathing in droplets from someone coughing, sneezing or even talking.
Prewitt also wrote that “no laws were broken” and that “social distancing is not a crime.”
The state health director issued an order in late April requiring people to stay 6 feet apart from non-family members in public through May 31.
The order also says restaurants can only reopen dine-in service if they adhere to that requirement and a few others.
People violating public health orders can generally be charged with a misdemeanor, and state officials said Tuesday that businesses that flout an order are subject to corrective legal action.
Punishments appear unlikely, though.
Local officials in the area have said they can’t actually enforce the state’s social distancing order, and state officials, including Gov. Mike Parson, have said it’s local officials’ job to make enforcement decisions.
“What they decide to do on the local levels is up to them,” he said. “That's their businesses there, that's their people there, their economy depends on a lot of that.”
Coincidentally, Prewitt put heavy emphasis on that last point in his statement letter.
“Unfortunately, our business is seasonal and nearly a third of our season has already been lost,” he said. “The initial shutdown has already had a tremendous impact on many of our staff and their families.”
Prewitt also quoted a statement from Camden County Sheriff Tony Helms, who said that the county “is a tourism-driven economy and each business is working hard to follow the state’s guidelines and protect their patrons and staff.”
Prewitt added that his business gave staff members a choice of whether they wanted to work without any negative consequences for saying no.
“We understand that there are many emotions and feelings involved on every side of the pandemic situation,” Prewitt added. “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.”
Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader's politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.