Vacationers flocked to the Lake of the Ozarks over the holiday weekend, flouting social distancing guidelines as they packed into yacht clubs, outdoor bars and resort pools in the Missouri tourist hot spot.

Images of the revelry rippled across social media, showing people eating, drinking and swimming in close quarters. In one picture shared by the news station KSDK, dozens of people could be seen crammed on an outdoor patio underneath a sign reading, “Please practice social distancing.”

The scenes underscored how some have interpreted the loosening of coronavirus restrictions ahead of the Memorial Day holiday as an invitation to return to a pre-pandemic version of normal. Amid varied and sometimes conflicting orders from state and local officials, people across the country have been left to decide on their own how strictly to follow the rules.

People around the United States were seen without masks and disregarding social distancing tactics as states eased shutdown parameters on Memorial Day weekend. (The Washington Post)

The images elicited a barrage of criticism from people angered by the open disregard for the guidelines that public health experts have spent months promoting.

“I don’t even know what to say anymore,” Meghan McCain, co-host of ABC’s “The View,” tweeted.

Like most of the country, Missouri has allowed some businesses to reopen and rolled back pandemic-related bans on nonessential activities, even as researchers warn the virus is still spreading at epidemic rates in Missouri and 23 other states.

After Missouri’s stay-at-home order expired May 3, Gov. Mike Parson (R) said a range of businesses, including large venues, could resume service as long as seating was spaced out to enforce social distancing. State guidelines mirror those issued by the federal government, instructing people to stay six feet apart when they are outside their homes.

Many businesses around the Lake of the Ozarks closed in the spring when the pandemic hit. But as the state moved to reopen, they allowed guests to rebook reservations. Several hotels and resorts told local media last week that they were fully booked through the weekend.

In videos shared widely on social media, people could be seen lined up outside Backwater Jack’s, waiting to enter the already packed bar and grill.

“Corona-free,” one man in line shouted in as the camera panned to him.

The waterfront establishment hosted a pool party Saturday called “Zero Ducks Given” that featured DJs and live bands. A Facebook page described the event as a summer kickoff party and showed nearly 400 people had attended.

A representative from Backwater Jack’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday. The event organizer said in a May 7 Facebook post the venue had “worked with and taken the advice of government officials and management teams and will be following social distancing guidelines,” adding, “extra precautions and safety measures will be taken.”

Missouri has reported more than 11,700 cases of the coronavirus and 676 deaths. A study by researchers at Imperial College London said it was one of 24 U.S. states that had yet to rein in the coronavirus and risked a second wave of infections.

Thick crowds also were seen at beaches and other attractions on the East Coast, including the Ocean City boardwalk and a beach on the reopened Jersey Shore.

Meryl Kornfield contributed to this report.