Open Letter Expresses Concern For Our Lifeguards
Susan Abatemarco is a lifetime Monmouth County resident who spent 8 years as a lifeguard, many years as a competitive long boarder, and 22 years in public education working with kids with disabilities. has shared a letter worth reading.
For those of us who live at the shore, this summer will be like nothing we’ve experienced. Each beach town will have its own set of rules in terms of social distance and slowing the spread of COVID-19. But will our lifeguards be paying too steep a price just so beachgoers can have fun this summer?
Here's what Sue has to say:
"I spent eight years as an ocean guard, three of those as Lifeguard Captain. I guarded with some of the best on the shore from Sea Bright to Belmar. Having made over a hundred saves and having taken time to stop and say a prayer of thanks after every single one, I understand the stress of this job on the shoulders of a population of lifeguards that is predominantly 17-22 years old. Adding in the complications of COVID-19 risk and precautions may be pushing some of our guards too far or, at the very least, making it much harder for them to keep beach goers and themselves safe.
The dangers are two-fold. Lifeguards are responsible for protecting people, but also for regulating the conduct of beachgoers to prevent conditions that may lead to an accident. This takes on a whole new meaning during this pandemic. Social distancing will be very hard to enforce or maintain down at the shoreline. An average guarded swim area is 30 feet wide, which, under CDC guidelines, would accommodate only 6 people across. Unattended children further complicate things as does the push and pull of the surf. This additional responsibility of protecting swimmers from each other will definitely complicate the life guards’ jobs as well as potentially exposing them to the virus.
Under normal conditions, ocean saves are very dangerous for both the swimmer and the guard and every second counts. As a lifeguard, you’re trained to react and experience on the stand teaches you to predict. A swimmer’s face appears confused or scared: you go. Practice makes protocol a reflex. But much of that protocol involves arm’s length, even face-to-face contact, and the momentary hesitation of implementing new techniques, or the untested techniques themselves can mean injury or worse for the lifeguard. I have tried to put myself in the role of a captain on any beach this summer and no matter what the scenario, the responsibility that comes with lifeguarding on the beach puts them at a high risk of exposure to COVID-19. Our guards are heroes, but they are our youngest first responders: we are talking about our local high school and college students here.
Before you go to the beach, please consider the risk our lifeguards -- our high school and college kids -- are taking. Reject negativity and practice compassion. Consider going to the beach a privilege and don’t take unnecessary risks. As locals, it is our responsibility to help, not hinder, whatever practices are put into place on the beaches. Step up to share the responsibility to safeguard each other. If your children go in the ocean, go with them. I know we all feel worry and we are all tired of restrictions, but just expect that lifeguards are going to have to make decisions that may feel like more restriction.
Regardless of who floods our beaches this weekend, remember, we are locals, we are the constant, and so are our guards. Protect them the way they have always protected us."
I have to say that I didn't stop to think about the new danger to lifeguards during this pandemic. In fact, there are still some 'older' lifeguards out there who could be even more susceptible to life-threatening symptoms of Covid-19. So my prayers are with each and every guard doing their best to protect others while serving this summer season on the frontlines of our beaches and ocean.