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Surf’s and concerns up: COVID-19 impacting beach safety this summer

From marine life to rip currents, lifeguards say this is the season for concern
Surf’s and concerns up: COVID-19 impacting beach safety this summer
Posted at 6:15 PM, Jun 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-17 22:49:11-04

After being cooped up for months due to COVID-19, Jason Andre is stoked to shred the curl again.

This surfer, however, also has concerns about getting back to the beach.

“I feel pretty trepidatious about going to any open beaches,” he said.

While Andre scouts the best breaks up and down the East Coast, he’s also keeping an eye on coronavirus concerns in his home state of North Carolina.

“Things are actually kind of reaching new peaks as far as infection rates and hospitalizations,” he said. “So, it’s a little weird.”

Weird and potentially dangerous.

With summer here and cities lifting their restrictions, more lifeguards are experiencing more challenges.

“We had like 48 water rescues for the weekend,” said Cpt. Tony Wallace of the Carolina Beach Ocean Rescue team.

He says strong rip currents have kept his crew busy with rescues and that COVID-19 has changed how his team now handles medical responses.

“We have stopped mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,” Wallace said. “So, now we go to a bag valve mask to assist in breathing if need be.”

Across the country on the Pacific Coast, lifeguards are working to protect the public and ensure social distancing.

“We like to do what we call preventive action work were we direct people to safe areas on the beach before they get into trouble,” said Lt. Claude Panis of the Huntington Beach Fire Department Marine Safety Divison.

He says summer is always a challenging time at the beach and that the pandemic has increased the dangers.

“I think people have been locked up and they're really itching to get outside,” Panis said. “And of course, the beach is a popular destination.”

Panis said when people are in trouble in the ocean the first thing to do is to stay calm and try not to panic.

Back on the Carolina Coast, Andre is dealing with challenges in and out of the ocean.

“We’ve had a pretty huge influx of Portuguese man-of-war lately which are really dangerous, extremely painful jellys that will sting you,” he said.

Andre is looking to stay safe by avoiding marine life and large crowds.

“I have a small handful of friends who I will invite to come out on the boat and we will go find a sandbar of own,” he said.

Searching for safety by finding a private beach during the pandemic.