‘What’s Covid?’ Why People at America’s Hardest-Partying Lake Are Not About to Get Vaccinated
Jul 27, 2021 3 mins, 17 secs

At the Lake of the Ozarks, vaccines are shunned, masks are mocked and the long term consequences take a back seat to the time at hand.

OSAGE BEACH, Mo.—The petite blonde bartender in ripped jean shorts bounced to each side of a square-shaped bar as women in bikinis and shirtless men lined up on a sweltering afternoon to order Bud Light, vodka and soda, and piles of nachos at this dockside retreat in the Lake of the Ozarks region.

I’ve been as hands-on as you can be with people from everywhere,” Erin said, as a motorboat thundered to the dock and another group of customers climbed out.

She said she’d heard a rumor—common among vaccine skeptics but also plainly false—that “more people are dying from getting the vaccine this week.”.

Boaters dock outside Backwater Jack's on Lake of the Ozarks in Osage Beach, Mo., Saturday, July 24, 2021.

In the Lake of the Ozarks region, where Missourians and out-of-staters pour in to boat, fish, sunbathe and party, to be unvaxxed is a source of identity and—at times—pride, a totem of one’s independence and politics.

Homes and private docks line coves at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.

Patrons swim in the Lake of the Ozarks at Franky & Louie's Beachfront Bar & Grill in Sunrise Beach, Mo., on Saturday, July 24, 2021.

It’s not like I was doing anything mean or inappropriate, I just had a plain black mask on.” An employee at the Ha Ha Tonka State Park Visitors Center, in the Lake of the Ozarks area, Hanlon says she wears a mask while interacting with roughly 600-700 people a week there.

These moments—evidence of how social pressures can often pull people away from public safety measures—underscore the hurdles the Biden administration now faces as it battles a resurgence of the virus across the country.

Single shot vaccinations for adults in the three counties within the Lake of the Ozarks region—Camden, Miller and Morgan—stood at 46 percent, 35 percent and 42 percent, respectively, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those interviewed here had various reasons for not getting the vaccine.

McNay, as he sat at Shorty Pants Lounge, another packed venue less than 15 minutes away from Backwater Jack’s.

A boy plays with a Trump flag near a Confederate flag at a stand selling mostly pro-Trump items on Bagnell Dam Boulevard in Lake Ozark, Mo.

Pedestrians are seen along the tourist area on the Bagnell Dam Strip in Lake Ozark, Mo.

Even so, Jane Ferris said the vaccine hadn’t been studied long enough and she didn’t want to be a “guinea pig.”?

Like other places with low vaccination rates, there is a deep distrust of authority that exists among those at the Lake of the Ozarks.

“Now people are getting vaccinated and mysteriously you can take the average scanner and scan your arm,” Kenny Hubbard, a Backwater Jack’s customer says in a Southern drawl.

In the current vaccine push, some people see an attempt to diminish the former president they love.

Shiman did get the vaccine, in part because Donald Trump was behind developing it, he said.

“All this bullshit about people getting sick, look around,” he gestured over to the crowded pool, “See any masks here in Missour-ah.

Boaters fish on Lake of the Ozarks near Bagnell Dam in Lake Ozark, Mo., Saturday, July 24, 2021

In fact, many people in Missouri are getting very sick, and they’re almost all unvaccinated

Less than 100 miles away from the Ozarks region, in Springfield, an all-hands on deck effort has been launched to fight the pandemic once more

That’s prompted the vaccination rate to creep up past 40 percent, not nearly enough to reach herd immunity, said Springfield’s mayor, Ken McClure

“We’re hearing a lot of anecdotal stories of young people, no underlying health condition going in with no vaccination and they’re dead within a few days,” McClure said


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