Lifeguards, scientist, make a plea for ocean safety amid COVID-19


The City and County of Honolulu released a new slogan Wednesday: “Get your peach off of the beach.”

The graphic with some well-placed emoji’s emphasizes Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s desire to get the public away from gatherings on Oahu’s beaches, while things like swimming, surfing, exercise, or fishing remain legal during the COVID-19 shelter in place order.

Even legal activities can put some of Honolulu’s first responders at risk, as personal protective equipment like masks and face shields are difficult to use in a water rescue.

“Its very difficult for the lifeguards right now.” Emergency Services spokesperson Shayne Enright said.

“These are water men and women that want to make sure that people stay safe. They’re doing a mobile response right now so they’re still out there they’re still making rescues but it’s not ideal.”

Lifeguards aren’t in their towers, meaning not only are they unable to respond as quickly as usual, they aren’t making warnings.

“Right now with the beach parts being closed the lifeguards are not in the towers, so they are unable to make all of the preventative actions that they normally do.” Enright added.

“They’re unable to tell you that the surf is big or to look out for the wind or whatever it might be.”

Lifeguards have jetskis and trucks ready if 911 is alerted for a rescue in the water, but that’s something they hope won’t be needed as long as the public exercises caution.

“Now is the time to be smart, now is the time to hold our first responders in a high regard.” Enright said.

“Their lives are on the line even more so. Every day when they go to work their lives are in jeopardy.”

Many wonder if it is even safe to go in the water at all. Waves were made nationally about COVID-19 and the ocean last week when Scripps Institute of Oceanography Atmospheric Chemist Kim Prather interviewed with the Los Angeles Times, leading readers to believe that COVID-19 could be spread through aerosol simply by waves crashing on the sand.

Prather told KHON2 that her comments weren’t portrayed accurately.

“First of all, the comments in the LA Times were totally taken out of context.” Prather said.

” I did not ever say I think ‘coronavirus is at the beach’. I also never said the beaches (or the ocean) should be closed. I did say people might want to consider social distancing themselves a bit further apart and not crowding beaches or outdoor spaces right now.
The context of our conversation was that people were still (for some reason) congregating at the beach. And my concern (not fear!) was that at the beach where it is breezy, 6 ft might not be enough. If someone is infected/sick and does not know it (has no symptoms), it is /possible/ they will breathe out aerosols (not droplets) which are much smaller and can be carried further distances (than 6 ft) in the breeze. The good news is there is dilution happening outdoors-so the further the air goes, the more dilute it becomes.”

“My recommendation was/is that people should just be aware/cautious while outdoors given this possibility — better to be safe than sorry especially when there is so much we do not know about this virus. I did NOT say stay away from the beach. Or close the oceans or beach. Never. Unfortunately, that is what spread like wildfire in the news.”

Prather added that a way to stay safe while exercising on the water or beach is to follow a simple rule.

“The best analogy is – how far do you move away from a smoker if you don’t want to smell the smoke? The aerosols in smoke will behave in a similar manner.”

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