COVID-19: Lack of lifeguards at Vancouver beaches raises public safety concerns

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      Although May has traditionally marked the start of outdoor public pool season in Vancouver, this year—needless to say—is unlike any other previous year.

      Due to the pandemic, the Vancouver Park Board (VPB) announced on May 13 that it is delaying the annual opening date of its five outdoor pools.

      That includes pools at Kitsilano, Second Beach, New Brighton Park, Maple Grove, and Hillcrest Aquatic Centre.

      In addition, the park board won’t be providing lifeguards at its nine bathing beaches, which remain open, as it continues to review how swimmers and staff can be protected from COVID-19.

      Signs at the beaches will inform swimmers that they will be entering waters at their own risk.

      The beaches include Spanish Banks, Locarno, Jericho, Kitsilano, Sunset, English Bay, Second Beach, Third Beach, and Trout Lake.

      Rafts at English Bay, Jericho, Kitsilano, and Locarno beaches also won’t be installed.

      The VPB is waiting for Lifesaving Society Canada to release new operating guidelines, expected at the end of May, with revised procedures for safe ways of rescuing swimmers during the pandemic. The guidelines are expected to cover in-water rescue techniques, modified first aid and resuscitation protocols, and use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

      However, CUPE 1004, the union that represents over 100 lifeguards for the VPB, is raising concerns that the park board’s decision will endanger the public.

      “Lifeguards are vital to providing safe public spaces for the people of Vancouver and are critical to public safety,” CUPE 1004 president Andrew Ledger stated in a news release. “We hope the park board reconsiders before the long-weekend.

      Meanwhile, the VPB has been reopening outdoor spaces that had previously been closed earlier in the pandemic.

      On May 12, the VPB announced that dog parks closed in late March have now reopened. Information about dog parks is available at the City of Vancouver website.

      The VPB has also been reopening tennis and pickleball courts, golf courses, and VanDusen Botanical Gardens.

      However, due to almost 2,000 physical-distancing warnings issued to people gathering at beaches and parks this past weekend, the VPB has decided to postpone the reopening parking lots at parks and beaches (which were closed on March 22) prior to the upcoming long weekend.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.