OCEAN CITY, Md. —Delmarva lifeguards say they plan to keep many of the same pandemic protocols this summer, even as restrictions ease, after making a whole host of changes to how they did their jobs last year.
More Americans are expected to travel this summer, and with international travel still a question mark due to the pandemic, drivable destinations like Maryland and Delaware beach communities expect to be flooded with tourists.
Ocean City Beach Patrol, as well as many of Delaware’s will continue their COVID-19 regulations but leave open the possibility of change as conditions improve and protocols from the state or federal guidelines are altered.
Capt. Butch Arbin of the Ocean City Beach Patrol credits the 2020 protocols for the agency not experiencing a single work-related COVID-19 case last summer.
Most members of the public didn’t notice a change in service last year and the same will likely be true again this year, Arbin said.
“From the public perspective, the guards were no difference last year and it’s going to be the same this year,” Arbin said.
Here’s what beachgoers can expect to see this summer:
What rules can you expect at the beach?
Lifeguards in Ocean City will perform rescues and enforce all beach rules as normal, but when the surf rescue technicians steps down from their stand, they will still put on a mask as they interact with the public, Arbin said.
“When that guard is in the stand, that guard is just doing the same job,” Arbin said.
Mask wearing for Maryland and Delaware is no longer mandated for those who are vaccinate, with a few exceptions. Masks remain recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for those who are unvaccinated. Employers and companies can have stricter rules on masks.
Rehoboth and Bethany beaches, and Lewes, each had their own mask mandates in 2020 but were repealed in the past few weeks. Dewey Beach mayor said the town will follow the governor on mask-wearing.
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In Bethany Beach, the beach patrol will continue to enforce all COVID-19 regulations, Capt. Joseph Donnelly said earlier in May.
Bethany Beach will also follow the recommendations provided by the government, but beachgoers should expect to “enjoy a pretty typical summer,” Donnelly said.
Lifeguards in Rehoboth Beach and North Shores will also monitor the crowds to make sure they’re following social distancing and other COVID-19 rules, according to both agencies.
Exactly what guidelines will be enforced is still a moving target, according to North Shores Lifeguards Capt. Kent Buckson. many regulations were altered or eliminated in May ahead of Memorial Day, the traditional opening of the tourism season, leaving lifeguard units to re-evaluate what’s safe for their teams.
Even with the regulations, beachgoers shouldn’t anticipate seeing any major changes at the beach, said Beach Patrol Capt. Jeff Giles for Rehoboth.
“From a beachgoer’s perspective, the experience will likely be the same as in previous years,” Giles said.
What COVID-19 precautions will lifeguards follow?
Ocean City went to great lengths last year to make sure its lifeguards had the proper equipment and safety gear to protect them from COVID-19, Arbin said.
“We’re gonna follow CDC guidelines again, whatever those are,” Arbin said. “Most of the protocols (from last year), we’re gonna keep in place this year.”
Each guard was issued personal protective equipment equipment last year, including N95 masks that were properly fitted to their faces for the most protection possible, Arbin said.
Ocean City Beach Patrol also changed how it conducted rescues, Arbin said. If someone in the water was in need of help, a guard on the stands would rescue them, but once the victim was ashore, other guards on ATVs render aid while the initial lifeguard decontaminated themselves.
Lifeguards at the Delaware beaches were also issued PPE gear to protect themselves. In Bethany Beach, lifeguards again will be wearing face coverings this summer, Donnelly said.
Lifeguards in Bethany Beach, Ocean City and elsewhere will also continue to perform wellness checks prior to starting their shifts, according to Arbin and Donnelly.
“I anticipate instituting COVID-19 protocols this season consistent with the recommendations of the CDC, (Delaware Division of Public Health), and local authorities, which we are currently assessing as we look ahead to the start of the season,” Donnelly said.
Rehoboth Beach and North Shores are also reassessing their protocols, and will likely continue to do so throughout the summer as conditions change, according to Giles and Buckson.
As of now, Rehoboth Beach lifeguards will have PPE, but that could change if it’s no longer required, Giles said. Lifeguards and beach patrol will follow whatever guidelines are provided by public health officials and the city of Rehoboth Beach.
“We continue to monitor revisions to public health guidelines and will revise our COVID safety responses as recommended by public health officials,” Giles said. “We will always act on the side of caution. All lifeguards will be equipped the proper PPE equipment.”
Vaccinations won’t be required for guards
Maryland and Delaware lifeguards won’t be required, but encouraged, to be vaccinated before taking the stands this summer, according to each agency.
Some lifeguards were already vaccinated earlier in the year through clinics in Ocean City, Arbin said.
“I don’t know off the top of my head how many people are going to come to Ocean City this summer, already vaccinated from wherever they live, but if they want to be vaccinated, we have a plan with the city to help them,” Arbin said. “Requiring them to be vaccinated is not part of it right now.”