Despite the global pandemic and social distancing guidelines, lifeguards should still be assisting beachgoers in need, rescue experts say.
With New Jersey beach towns getting ready for a summer unlike any other, many are wondering: How will lifeguards do their jobs safely?
On Thursday, Gov. Phil Murphy declared New Jersey’s beaches and lakefronts “open” for Memorial Day weekend, although visitors will have to abide by a lengthy list of restrictions. While municipalities will have to follow state restrictions, general beach and boardwalk operations are at local discretion.
A key component of the state guidelines is the enforcement of social distancing. And during rescue situations, that’s not entirely possible for lifeguards.
The United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) announced Thursday that the organization has received numerous inquires regarding best practices for lifeguarding during the pandemic.
“Lifeguards, like other public safety providers, want to know how to protect themselves and how to protect others, including co-workers, family, and the general public,” the organization said in a news release.
According to the USLA guidance, precautions should include, “at a minimum,” gloves, a mask, and eye protection. Other guidelines include:
- Use social distancing at work, avoid large meetings, close training, and close proximity to others (example: one guard per stand/tower).
- Wear a simple, fabric mask covering your nose and mouth whenever you are within six feet of others.
- Use universal precautions when providing medical aid. Avoid mouth-to-mouth or mouth-to-mask resuscitation. Use a bag-valve-mask or positive pressure ventilator, in either case with a HEPA or N95 filter.
- Avoid touching other people, including your fellow lifeguards, unless necessary.
- Consider regular temperature checks by lifeguards.
But even with following the guidelines, “it does not ensure prevention of disease transmission, but lessens the likelihood,” the organization said.
A lifeguard supervisor told NBC that during a water rescue, for victims in manageable distress, a lifeguard will hand them a flotation device and swim back to shore while keeping a distance. But for those at serious risk, lifeguards will have no choice but to make direct contact, the supervisor said.
At the state’s Thursday briefing, Sea Isle City Mayor Leonard Desiderio said he’s preparing plans to protect beach patrol.
“Generally you have two lifeguards on a stand. What we’re preparing, and I know our police chief and our chief of the beach patrol, we’re going to have one on a stand, have another stand a little further so that we can spread out the swimmers, so we’ll be able to do that. So it’ll be one on a stand at this time,” he said.
Desiderio added that lifeguards will not be responsible for supervising and enforcing required social distancing. That job will be left to police officers doing standard summer patrols on ATVs and “goodwill ambassadors,” who will remind people to keep their distance.
Nearby towns — the Wildwoods, Ocean City, Stone Harbor, Avalon, and Cape May — all plan to have guarded beaches this summer. Beach patrols supervisors tell the Press of Atlantic City that they’re developing new rescue procedures.
WHYY’s Nicholas Pugliese contributed reporting.