COVID-19 hasn’t had as much of a health effect on the local beaches as anticipated, but the city’s lifeguards aren’t letting their guard down.
Barrie’s lifeguards started work on Monday, June 29 and wrapped up their season at the east end’s Johnson’s Beach today at 5:30 p.m. They will still monitor Centennial Beach until Sept. 4, which is the Friday before Labour Day.
The 2020 season was different than any other in the past, as lifeguards were not just watching for water threats, but also concerns around COVID-19.
City of Barrie manager of recreation Steve Lee-Young told BarrieToday that, despite the constant threat of close contact, there have been no cases of the disease identified at local beaches.
“So far, so good. We have had no COVID issues. Centennial Beach obviously sees the highest number of (people for) foot traffic of all the beaches, but nothing to report on that front,” Lee-Young said.
The city’s approximately 25 lifeguards are predominantly students, between the ages of 16 and 24 years old, and are taught to always be alert and ready for anything.
“They came into this year prepared as always, but for sure, there were concerns on how to handle people who were breaking COVID rules,” Lee-Young said. “That's where the bylaw officers doing extra patrolling came in handy.”
The city’s bylaw officers were keeping a close eye on the beaches a little more this year to enforce physical-distancing rules enacted by the municipality in April.
In late-July, barbecues and tents were also banned at local beaches, which helped reduce the number of visitors, Lee-Young said.
“The ban on barbecues was huge for us," he said. "It really seemed to keep numbers down from past years."
This year’s crop of lifeguards were involved in training for the job in June. At the time, Lee-Young said they were ready for COVID-19 contact issues as part of their training.
While Lee-Young didn't have a detailed list of incidents from this summer, he said it was not unlike any other year.
“I would say this season was pretty average and in line with past years. There were no major situations; a couple of rescues that ended with a good story all around, but that’s it,” Lee-Young said.
One task lifeguards do deal with at times are questions from beach visitors. Sometimes, it's where the closest place to eat is located, how to get to the mall, or a host of other routine questions.
But at least once, when Lee-Young asked his team what the most unusual thing they were asked was, he was a little taken back.
“I kid you not, our lifeguards were once asked if we heated our beach. Not just the beach, like the sand area, but if we heated our water, too,” Lee-Young said with a laugh. “I truly didn’t know what to say when I heard that.”
Lifeguards are on duty at Centennial Beach until Friday, Sept. 4 from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.