Lifeguard patrols taking COVID precautions

Five lifeguards in coastal Delaware have tested positive for COVID-19 so far. (Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder)

REHOBOTH BEACH — After three Rehoboth Beach lifeguards tested positive for COVID-19 followed by two Delaware State Park lifeguards on Tuesday, beach patrols in coastal Delaware are continuing to enforce health precautions in order to prevent further transmission of the virus.

Nikki Lavoie , chief of Public Affairs for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control said that the two affected State Park lifeguards are now self-isolating at home as the state contacts individuals who may have been infected.

“Our lifeguards perform a crucial role in protecting visitors at our beaches at Delaware State Parks,” Ms. Lavoie said. “DNREC continues to follow recommended best practices to minimize health risks to park-goers and our Beach Patrol team, including a strict cleaning protocol for public spaces and sanitizing of staff workstations.”

Rehoboth Beach Patrol Captain Kent Buckson said he was working to place as many lifeguards on the beach as possible, (Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder)

DNREC also announced Wednesday they would be implementing a 60% capacity limit on their Cape Henlopen, Delaware Seashore, and Fenwick Island parks effective Friday. Once those parking lots reach 60% capacity, park staff will turn away visitors and prohibit them from forming lines to enter the park.

Rehoboth Beach Patrol Captain Kent Buckson said Wednesday he was working to place as many lifeguards on the beach as possible, however, the patrol was facing difficulties with staffing before the three lifeguards tested positive and began to self isolate. The patrol started the season with less staff than usual.

“Anytime you lose staff, especially seasonal staff, it puts a strain on your operation,” Mr. Buckson said. “We’re able to still maintain coverage on the beach, we’re just stretched a little bit more thin than I would like.”

An understaffed patrol team could result in only one lifeguard to a chair, or no lifeguard chair at all on some streets compared to the ideal two guards per chair.

“We’re understaffed, and we started out the summer understaffed,” Mr. Buckson said. “Obviously, losing guards to the virus is a concern more for them and their wellbeing, and obviously the beach patrol.”

Mr. Buckson said that although the Rehoboth Beach Patrol may have to remove some chairs later in the summer, there will still be lifeguards present on most streets.

“Any families or visitors to the beach for the day, week, or throughout the summer, they would be served best to seek out where local lifeguards are stationed, and swim near a lifeguard,” he said. “They may not always find a lifeguard right off the street they want to sit on, but if they travel a little north or south, they’ll be able to find a lifeguard.”

As of Wednesday night, the Rehoboth Beach and Delaware State Park beach patrols were the only beaches to report lifeguards infected with COVID-19.

However, coastal beach patrols are still taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously.

Bethany Beach Patrol Captain Joe Donnelly said they check lifeguards’ temperatures every day among other precautions.

“We’re following all the things that, you know, that have been asked of us, and recommended to us by various agencies,” he said. “And so far, it’s taking some getting used to, but it seems to be working.”

Dewey Beach Patrol has limited one lifeguard on a chair at a time, according to Patrol Captain Todd Fritchman.

“We have a rigid and straightforward protocol that we’re implementing every minute of every day to avoid contracting the virus and having that amongst the ranks of the beach patrol, but we also realize that everybody on the planet is going to be exposed to the virus sometime, somehow,” he said.

Although the Dewey Beach Patrol is implementing many suggested precautions, Mr. Fritchman said it is difficult to control what lifeguards come in contact with outside of work.

“I’m very confident in our protocols and our implementations procedures of those protocols,” he said. “However, lifeguards do not stay on duty 24 hours a day. They dwo go out into their worlds and their lives, and that’s not something I can control.”

Fenwick Island Beach Patrol Captain John Rykaczewski expressed similar concerns, saying he is confident in Fenwick’s precautions, yet he is encouraging lifeguards to social distance in their personal life as well.

“We put in every precaution that’s possible to make sure that our guards and staff are safe as well as our beach patrons,” Mr. Rykaczewski said. “We also try to regulate what they do outside of work as well. Make sure that they stay within the social distancing and staying out of crowded places and so forth as well. That’s just something that we can’t control and we can’t force, but it’s highly recommended.”

Delaware has reported increased positive cases in the Sussex County beach resort ZIP codes in recent weeks.

Captain Donnelly of Bethany Beach reminded visitors they should check town regulations before visiting any beaches in the area.

“The biggest message that we try to get out to the public is just follow what your town or beach that you’re visiting, whatever it may be, Rehoboth all the way down to Fenwick and Ocean City, Maryland, wherever. Just follow what town officials are asking you to do,” Mr. Donnelly said.

State officials encouraged those who have visited the Rehoboth area in the past two weeks to monitor their symptoms and get tested for the virus. For testing locations, visit coronavirus.delaware.gov/testing/.


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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