(AP) JEFFERSON CITY — After a holiday weekend of crowds ignoring social distancing orders at the Lake of the Ozarks, Gov. Mike Parson said there is little he can do to regulate gatherings.
Although he called scenes of people shoulder-to-shoulder at lakeside pool bars “potentially dangerous” ways to spread COVID-19, he said local health departments are responsible for ensuring people stay six feet apart.
“I’m not going to send the National Guard… I am not going to send the highway patrol out to monitor this,” Parson said.
Rather, the Republican governor said he is leaving enforcement to city and county-level officials.
“That’s their business. I trust the people in those positions. These people are elected to do these positions,” Parson said.
His comments came a day after state and St. Louis area officials issued dire health warnings as videos of Memorial Day revelers at the lake brought national media attention to Missouri.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page issued a “travel advisory” urging “those who ignored protective practices to self-quarantine for 14 days or until testing negative for COVID-19” and encouraging employers to ask workers how they spent their holiday and to take necessary precautions.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson called the behavior “irresponsible and dangerous” because visitors to the lake could spread the disease across the Midwest when they return home.
“It’s just deeply disturbing,” Krewson said.
Democrats accused Parson of putting the economy before public health.
“Governor Parson has lost control and the past few days have made clear that there is a massive vacuum of leadership in our state,” said Missouri Democratic Party Executive Director Lauren Gepford. “Instead of putting together a thoughtful plan to reopen our economy, the governor recklessly reopened the state — and now Missourians are paying the economic and public health price.
Parson’s response to the global pandemic has been criticized as being too light-handed. Rather than impose tough limits on behavior, he has called for people to practice personal responsibility when it comes to going out in public and has left enforcement to local officials.
He repeated that mantra again Tuesday.
“We must remember it’s about a cause bigger than ourselves,” Parson said.
His bid to reopen the economy comes as the state has seen 694 deaths from the coronavirus, along with 12,291 confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. Tuesday. The number of new cases has risen by 8.3% over the past week as state officials have ramped up testing.