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Missouri sheriff sets record straight about no arrests at Ozarks pool party: ‘Social distancing is not a crime’

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A Missouri Sheriff’s Office set the record straight after backlash over a seeming lack of response to social distancing violations.

The Camden County Sheriff’s Office in southern Missouri issued a statement on Monday, responding to the flood of criticism after photos and video from a mass pool party went viral. Sheriff Tony Helms from Camden County informed critics that his office had no authority to enforce violations of social distancing guidelines which were technically not a crime, and repeated his stance on CNN.

(Source: CNN)

“Social distancing is not a crime, therefore I have nothing to enforce or arrest for,” Helms told CNN host Don Lemon on Monday, reiterating that his office has maintained that view well before the pool party that drew national attention.

“We encourage our citizens to use good common sense, good health practices…they know what’ they’re supposed to do,” Helms said, adding that he cannot enforce “something that’s not a law.”

A pool at the Lake of the Ozarks drew a packed crowd this Memorial Day weekend as Backwater Jacks Bar & Grill in Osage Beach hosted a “Zero Ducks Given Pool Party” as Missouri’ began part of its reopening plan. While restaurants were allowed to begin offering dine-in services in the state, they still needed to implement coronavirus safety guidelines such as social distancing.

As lockdown-weary Americans came out to enjoy the beginning of the holiday weekend in many cities across the nation, videos began to surface from the pool party in Missouri.

Criticism of Backwater Jacks Bar & Grill and the party-goers was swift.

The eatery maintained that “extra precautions “and safety measures were being taken at the event, according to a blog post about the party. Some of the measures included were “operating at a reduced capacity to allow for social distancing,” as well as “temperature screenings of all attendees” as they entered.

The Sheriff’s Office issued a statement explaining that the county has a “tourism-driven economy” and businesses needed to make decisions about how they would be keeping visitors and residents safe. Helms also noted that people who ventured out “made a conscious decision” to do so, adding that “it was the right and responsibility of each individual ” to assess the risks involved.

The statement expressed that the Sheriff’s Office had no authority to enforce social distancing and that people needed to take “personal responsibility” for their actions, adding that they “respect the right of citizens to move freely” in the area.

The St. Louis County Public Health Department issued a travel advisory following reports of the party, warning:  “Any person who has travelled and engaged in this behavior should self-quarantine for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result for COVID-19.”

“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 county executive, said in a statement.

Dr. Rex Archer, director of the Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department, also tweeted a call for self-quarantines.

“Anyone who didn’t practice CDC, DHSS, and KCMO Health Department social distancing guidance should self quarantine for 14 days if they have any compassion for others,” Archer wrote.

Sheriff Helms told CNN the enforcing of the social distancing guidelines “falls to the Health Department,” since there is no statute for his own office to enforce. He noted that the small community was inundated with visitors over the weekend while many in the town chose to stay home.

“I don’t think it’s good, I don’t think people are practicing what they’ve been taught,” Helms acknowledged. “But it’s not a crime. I know it’s hard for people to swallow.”

Frieda Powers


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