Swimmers, sharks, social distancing: Challenges ahead for Cape Cod lifeguards

The job of a lifeguard is to save lives, but this year because of COVID-19 guidelines, how it's done will look much different than in summers past.

CAPE COD, Mass. — The job of a lifeguard is to save lives, but this year because of COVID-19 guidelines, how it’s done will look much different than in summers past.

“Of course that’s our number one job as lifeguards, is making sure people don’t drown or nothing happens,” explained Gordon Miller, Head Lifeguard at the Cape Cod National Seashore. “But now we have these extra duties on the beach, making sure people stay separated.”

Gordon told Boston 25 News on Friday that this summer, lifeguards will have a new set of challenges by enforcing social distancing guidelines, and likely having to deal with unruly beachgoers who may not want to follow directions.

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“If you have a group of 16, 17-year-olds on your beach, and that’s who’s running your beach, that could be a problem,” he said. “It does take some maturity, some kind of judgment to know how to deal with situations like that.”

With their main focus on the water, he said it’s crucial that guards don’t get tied up with problems on land and jeopardize the safety of swimmers.

If people do get aggressive, he added that guards will call for immediate back-up.

“We try to give people a nice talking to. “Hey, sir, you have to do X and Y.” If they don’t want to follow, we get on the radio and call rangers and let them handle it,” he said. “A doubling of the calls to the Rangers, I fully expect.”

Lifeguards will also have to protect themselves.

Many will have to wear masks, and some towns plan to limit one guard per stand.

According to Suzanne Grout-Thomas, Director of Community Services in the town of Wellfleet, surgical masks and face shields will be worn when treating patients on all four of their beaches.

People who may become injured on the beach will also be provided a face mask when being worked on by a guard or EMT, she said.

In order to maintain a safe social distance, a 5-foot radius around the lifeguard stand will be blocked off.

The new rules come as towns across Cape Cod start to impose new beach regulations in order to control potential crowding.

Grout-Thomas indicated that Wellfleet will be reducing beach parking spaces by 25%, while the Orleans Select Board voted this week to decrease beach parking lots by 50%.

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