Anybody but the most irresponsible mayor in America would have been horrified by the video showing maskless concertgoers packed with no regard for social distancing at Shady Gators in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, on Saturday night.
The sight should have been all the more disturbing to Mayor Gerry Murawski of Lake Ozark, because video from Memorial Day caused an uproar with images of swimsuited young people carousing in the same party spot’s multiple pools.
But Murawski appeared only delighted when he spoke to reporters about it this week. The first-term mayor said that the videos generated attention, which is translating to a record number of visitors.
“So you just think about what this has done for our economy and you just go, ‘Thank you, folks,’” Murawski actually said. “As of the end of July, my numbers say we are already at 9.1 million. I look at that and go, ‘Well maybe we’ve done something right.’”
This is a video from Snapchat maps in the Lake of the Ozarks Saturday pic.twitter.com/hSczsbPjnU— Bryce Derrickson (@BDerricksonTV) May 24, 2020
That means 2 million more people than last year converged on this realm where reckless gatherings like those at the Shady Gators are officially deemed good business. Those 9.1 million people arrive with whatever pathogens they may be carrying and spread back out across the country with whatever they may have just acquired. A number of them are from St. Louis County, where the chief executive is a longtime anesthesiologist.
“We did have some cases that were able to trace back to crowds, including events at the Lake of the Ozarks,” Dr. Sam Page told a local TV station on Monday.
Page said that anybody who was in the crowd at Lake of the Ozarks over the weekend should self-quarantine.
And the events are not even over. Shady Gators is hosting “Halloween in August” on Thursday, perhaps the only event in the whole area where many people can be expected to wear masks, albeit ones with breathing holes. Masks will not likely be in evidence at the concerts scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.
On its website, Shady Gators says masks are “encouraged but not required,” as there is no state mandate requiring such. Paramedics conduct “non-contact thermal checks” on all who enter. And the events are supposed to be kept at 50 percent of capacity.
But if the video this past Saturday is any indication, few if any in attendance will be wearing masks. And restrictions on the size of the crowd likely will only translate into more empty space at the back when everybody packs in, bare-faced, at the front of the stage.
The Canadian electronic music duo Adventure Club was originally scheduled to be the main act last Saturday. The pair bowed out on Tuesday, tweeting, “Sorry Lake Ozark—We are unable to attend the show this weekend. After going through all of the options we just feel it’s still not safe to do shows or be traveling. The promoter and venue did not know our final decision until this morning. We love you, stay safe.”
Adventure Club was replaced by Borgeous and Dr. Zhivegas. The big act this coming Saturday is slated to be Well Hungarians from St. Louis. The venue has little, if anything to fear from Murawski or any other authorities despite an open letter to the community written in late July by the head of the area’s premier medical institution.
“As the number of COVID-19 cases in our community continues to climb, we again face a stark truth: This pandemic is not just happening somewhere else—it’s happening here,” CEO Dane Henry of Lake Regional Health System wrote.
“Although many are weary of the national coverage and political debate about COVID-19, the fact is there are things you can and should do to protect yourself, your family and others. Here’s why—we are now seeing widespread COVID-19 cases in each of the counties Lake Regional serves, as well as a recent uptick in the number of patients hospitalized with, and dying from, this illness.”
The three counties, Morgan, Miller and Camden, had a total of 495 cases, with five deaths. Lake Regional was caring for five COVID-19 patients as of July 21.
“While it may seem like a small number compared to metropolitan areas in the news, small numbers can have a large impact on a community and health system of this size,” he went on.
He added, “Keeping the Lake of the Ozarks safe for families—our own, as well as visitors’—throughout the summer is everyone’s job. Taking personal responsibility for following CDC guidelines, including wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing and good health habits, is the best way to proactively manage this illness. That’s why we encourage businesses and municipalities to advocate for face coverings.”
Henry noted that masks are mandatory in all Lake Regional facilities.
“Although we are unfortunately receiving some pushback from visitors on these measures, we will continue to hold firm,” Henry said. “They are non-negotiable for ensuring the safety of those who work here, as well as those Lake Regional serves.”
That is exactly the stance a responsible mayor would take, whatever the effect that might have on tourism. Murawski failed to respond to numerous calls from The Daily Beast to his office and cellphones. He finally handed his cellphone to Alderman Larry Giampa, and had him return the call.
Giampa is originally from Chicago and owns Blondie’s Burger Bar in Lake Ozark. He was apparently chosen because he is a relative moderate whose take on COVID-19 diverges with the prevailing view in the area.
“They still believe it’s a hoax,” Giampa said. “They all believe it’s phony. It’s not a major thing. I’m telling you, they believe it’s going to disappear we’re never going to hear about it as soon as the election’s over.”
He said he knows better.
“I have two friends who have died from it,” he said.
Giampa was the first in the area to close his business. He noted that when he went back to Chicago, everybody seemed to be wearing masks and on edge.
“Exact opposite of here,” he told The Daily Beast, referring to his bar/restaurant, which he reopened on May 1.
“There are 40 to 50 people on my deck right now,” he said. “There’s no such thing as a mask.”
While Giampa knows the virus is real and reminds himself of the danger, he also noted something else.
“Since May 1, I’ve doubled my business,” he said, adding, “Because of the COVID.”
When asked if the mayor was one of those who still believe the virus is a hoax, Giampa hesitated. He then simply said that Murawski shares his view of COVID-19 as an economic bonanza.
“It’s actually helped us tremendously,” Giampa said.
Tim Jacobsen, executive director of the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitors Bureau, agreed that the viral partying videos gave the area exposure that translated into increased tourism. He noted that there are a total of 26 places on the lake that have pools with food and beverage service.
He suggested another big factor in the current boom is the Netflix show Ozark, even though much of it was shot in Atlanta because of the tax breaks that Georgia offers film and television production. There is also the present reluctance of people to fly.
Of the mayor, Jacobson said, “He got a little zealous in some of the comments he made.”
The zealotry seems less forgivable than the impassioned delusion of those who actually believe the virus is a hoax. Murawski has been known to wear a mask and has sometimes said it is advisable. That only makes him more reprehensible, because he knows better. He is worse than just a bad example.
He cheers when asked about videos of behavior that anybody but the most irresponsible mayor in America would condemn.