Thousands Gather for Memorial Day Celebrations, Ignoring Social Distancing Guidelines
Photo by Kevin Lamarque for Reuters
- Videos and pictures from Memorial Day weekend show thousands of people all over the country going to crowded beaches, boardwalks, pool parties, and other events, largely ignoring health guidelines.
- One viral video showed dozens, if not hundreds, of people without masks in a crowded pool in the Lake of the Ozarks.
- A speedway opening in North Carolina attracted 2,500 people, despite state-wide orders preventing outdoor gatherings of more than 25. The county sheriff refused to enforce the orders because he felt they were “unconstitutional.”
- Meanwhile, the U.S. is on track to hit 100,000 deaths this week, and studies show at least 24 states still have epidemic levels of spread.
A Crowded Pandemic Memorial Day
Despite numerous calls from health officials at every government level, thousands of people all over America spent Memorial Day weekend at crowded beaches, pool parties, and other packed locations, flouting recommendations for social distancing and mask-wearing.
One of the most viral examples came from a video of a pool party at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.
In the video, dozens and dozens of people can be seen packed together in a pool with no masks in sight. It is unclear how many people were there, but according to reports, a Facebook event for the party, which was called “Zero Ducks Given,” showed nearly 400 people had attended.
The video sparked a lot of backlash on social media, with some noting that it came just days after the governor of neighboring Arkansas said a similar pool party caused a new cluster of coronavirus cases and a “second peak” in his state.
Numerous officials in Missouri slammed the move, including St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, who called it “irresponsible and dangerous.”
“Now, these folks will be coming home to St. Louis and counties all over Missouri and the Midwest, raising concerns about the potential of more positive cases, hospitalizations, and tragically, deaths,” she said. “It’s just deeply disturbing.”
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, a physician, also condemned the party, and warned of the risk it posed.
“The risk of contracting COVID- 19 is exponentially increased,” he said. “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.”
Page also announced that the County Department of Public Health issued a travel advisory in response to the video. The advisory urges anyone who traveled over the weekend and did not take proper safety precautions to self-quarantine for 14 days or until they test negative for the coronavirus.
Parties in the U.S.A.
The footage from the Lake of the Ozarks pool party, however, is only one of several notable videos and photos that surfaced from the long weekend.
When videos of a pool party at a club in Houston also circulated on social media, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that authorities will start enforcing capacity limits for bars and restaurants.
According to Turner’s office, the city recieved hundreds of complaints alleging violations.
Separately, another video spread on social media showed thousands of people packed in the stands at the Ace Speedway season opening in North Carolina.
Ace Speedway co-owner Jason Turner told local reporters that 2,500 people attended. He also said that social distancing was recommended but not enforced, and that hand sanitizer would be provided. The event did not, however, recommend that attendees wear masks.
Very notably, the Ace Speedway opening appeared to violate state-wide restrictions on outdoor gatherings. Under Gov. Roy Cooper’s second phase of reopening, North Carolina currently limits outdoor gatherings to 25 people.
But according to local reports, the County Sheriff said he would refuse to “enforce an unconstitutional law.”
Beach Bashes Strain Resources
Many of the largest crowds from the weekend were those seen on beaches and boardwalks.
Some of the most jarring pictures that circulated showed crowded boardwalks in Ocean City, Maryland, and Venice Beach in California, as well as other photos of crammed beaches like Newport Beach in California.
However, some of the most crowded beaches were in Florida. Pictures from Pensacola show crowds of people all over the beach. One of the cities that saw the biggest throngs was Daytona.
“Without a doubt, this is one of the busiest weekends I’ve seen in many years,” Volusia County Beach Safety Deputy Chief Andrew Ethridge told reporters. “We have 47 miles of beach in Volusia County and every bit of it has crowds.”
Separately, organizers for a large block party called “Orlando Invades Daytona” canceled the event at the request of the police department, but hundreds of people still showed up, dancing in streets and on top of cars near the boardwalk.
At one point, a man began throwing money from a car, prompting a huge cluster of people to rush forward and creating a traffic jam.
Like in North Carolina, Volusia County, which houses Daytona, has strict regulations on group gathering, which are limited to ten or fewer. But unlike the North Carolina Speedway, the lack of enforcement in Daytona was not due to a lack of will.
“They were not practicing social distancing and they did not necessarily respond in a lot of ways that we wanted them to as it relates to the normal expectations of visitors,” explained Daytona Mayor Derrick Henry. “You got 300 to 500 people per law enforcement officer, it is a tough order.”
Later in the eveing, the Daytona party got out of hand when a shooting broke out, reportedly injuring at least six people.
Concerns Grow as Enforcement Gets Sticky
The rowdy events of the long weekend come as the U.S. is about to hit a huge and horrific milestone: 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus.
With about 347,000 deaths worldwide, the U.S. now accounts for almost a third of all the people who have died from the virus.
Even before the holiday weekend, many experts and officials were concerned about the rate of spread as states and cities continue to ease more and more restrictions.
One recent study found that 24 states still have epidemic-level spread. According to other reports, cases are still trending upwards in at least 17 states.
But in places where restrictions have been rolled back and there are no enforceable executive orders, authorities have said there is not much they can do.
For example, the mayor of Osage Beach, Missouri, where the viral pool party was held, has insisted that it is essential for businesses to reopen for tourists. That, however, makes things complicated for law enforcement.
“It kind of ties our hands when they’re just guidelines and not mandates,” Chris Twitchel, captain of operations for the Camden County Sheriff’s Office told the Washington Post. “We are doing the best thing that we can by urging people to use social distancing. But ultimately, there’s not a lot we can do about it.”
Meanwhile, the top health officials in the country are still warning that social distancing and masks are precautions that absolutely must be taken.
On Sunday, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, emphasized the importance of these measures while speaking to ABC This Week about the large Memorial Day crowds.
“Ee really want to be clear all the time that social distancing is absolutely critical,” she said. “And if you can’t social distance and you’re outside, you must wear a mask.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (NBC News)
Survey and Census Data Shows Record Number of Americans are Struggling Financially
Americans are choosing not to pursue medical treatment more and more frequently as they encounter money troubles.
A recent federal survey shows that a record number of Americans were worse off financially in 2022 than a year prior.
Coupled with recent census data showing pervasive poverty across much of the country, Americans are forced to make difficult decisions, like foregoing expensive healthcare.
According to a recent Federal Reserve Bureau survey, 35% of adults say they were worse off in 2022 than 2021, which is the highest share ever recorded since the question was raised in 2014.
Additionally, half of adults reported their budget was majorly affected by rising prices across the country, and that number is even higher among minority communities and parents living with their children.
According to recent census data, more than 10% of the counties in the U.S. are experiencing persistent poverty, meaning the area has had a poverty rate of 20% or higher between 1989 and 2019.
16 states report at least 10% of their population living in persistent poverty. But most of the suffering counties were found in the South — which accounts for over half the people living in persistent poverty, despite making up less than 40% of the population.
These financial realities have placed many Americans in the unfortunate situation of choosing between medical treatment and survival. The Federal Reserve study found that the share of Americans who skipped medical treatment because of the cost has drastically increased since 2020.
The reflection of this can be found in the overall health of households in different income brackets. 75% of households with an income of $25,000 or less report being in good health – compared to the 91% of households with $100,000 or more income.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (The Hill) (Federal Reserve)
Montana Governor Signs TikTok Ban
The ban will likely face legal challenges before it is officially enacted next year.
First Statewide Ban of TikTok
Montana became the first state to ban TikTok on Wednesday after Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed legislation aimed at protecting “Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party.”
The ban will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, though the law will likely face a handful of legal challenges before that date.
Under the law, citizens of the state will not be held liable for using the app, but companies that offer the app on their platforms, like Apple and Google, will face a $10,000 fine per day of violations. TikTok would also be subject to the hefty daily fine.
Questions remain about how tech companies will practically enforce this law. During a hearing earlier this year, a representative from TechNet said that these platforms don’t have the ability to “geofence” apps by state.
Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, told the Associated Press that app stores could have the capability to enforce the restriction, but it would be difficult to carry out and there would be a variety of loopholes by tools like VPNs.
Montana’s law comes as U.S. politicians have taken aim at TikTok over its alleged ties to the CCP. Earlier this year, the White House directed federal agencies to remove TikTok from government devices. Conservatives, in particular, have been increasingly working to restrict the app.
“The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented,” Gov. Gianforte said in a Wednesday statement.
Criticism of Montana Law
TikTok, however, has repeatedly denied that it gives user data to the government. The company released a statement claiming Montana’s law “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people” in the state.
“We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana,” the company said.
The American Civil Liberties Union condemned Montana’s law for similar reasons.
“This law tramples on our free speech rights under the guise of national security and lays the groundwork for excessive government control over the internet,” the ACLU tweeted. “Elected officials do not have the right to selectively censor entire social media apps based on their country of origin.”
Per the AP, there are 200,000 TikTok users in Montana, and another 6,000 businesses use the platform as well. Lawsuits are expected to be filed against the law in the near future.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Fast Company) (CBS News)
How a Disney-Loving Former Youth Pastor Landed on The FBI’s “Most Wanted” List
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Chris Burns’ 19-year-old son pleaded to his father via The Daily Beast.
Multi-Million Dollar Scheme
Former youth pastor turned financial advisor Chris Burns remains at large since going on the run in September of 2020 to avoid a Securities Exchange Commission investigation into his businesses.
Despite his fugitive status, the Justice Department recently indicted Burns with several more charges on top of the $12 million default judgment he received from the SEC.
Burns allegedly sold false promissory notes to investors across Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. The SEC claims he told the investors they were participating in a “peer to peer” lending program where businesses that needed capital would borrow money and then repay it with interest as high as 20%. Burns allegedly also reassured investors that the businesses had collateral so the investment was low-risk.
The SEC says that Burns instead took that money for personal use.
Burns began his adult life as a youth pastor back in 2007 before transitioning into financial planning a few years later. By 2017, he launched his own radio show, The Chris Burns Show, which was funded by one of his companies, Dynamic Money – where every week Burns would “unpack how this week’s headlines practically impact your life, wallet, and future,” according to the description. He also frequently appeared on television and online, talking about finances and politics.
The SEC alleges that he used his public appearances to elevate his status as a financial advisor and maximize his reach to investors.
His family told The Daily Beast that he became obsessed with success and he reportedly bought hand-made clothes, a million-dollar lakehouse, a boat, several cars, and took his family on several trips to Disney World. His eldest son and wife said that Burns was paying thousands of dollars a day for VIP tours and once paid for the neighbors to come along.
Then in September 2020, he reportedly told his wife that he was being investigated by the Securities Exchange Commission but he told her not to worry.
The day that he was supposed to turn over his business documents to the SEC, he disappeared, telling his wife he was just going to take a trip to North Carolina to tell his parents about the investigation. Then, the car was found abandoned in a parking lot with several cashier’s checks totaling $78,000
FBI’s Most Wanted
The default judgment in the SEC complaint orders Burns, if he’s ever found, to pay $12 million to his victims, as well as over $650,000 in a civil penalty. Additionally, a federal criminal complaint charged him with mail fraud. Burns is currently on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Last week, the Justice Department indicted him on several other charges including 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of mail fraud.
“Burns is charged for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from clients in an illegal investment fraud scheme,” Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Financial crimes of this nature can cause significant disruptions to the lives of those who are victimized, and the FBI is dedicated to holding these criminals accountable.”
His family maintains that they knew nothing of Burns’ schemes. His wife reportedly returned over $300,000 that he had given to her.
She and their eldest son, who is now 19, told The Daily Beast they just want Burns to turn himself in, take responsibility for his actions, and try to help the people he hurt.
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Burns’ son said in a message to his father via The Daily Beast.