South County’s sandy ocean shores have seen few people, even with last weekend’s holiday, but the test is coming as daily increasing temperatures in the air and water invite local patrons and tourists.
Businesses and other routine parts of daily life are re-awakening to a coronavirus-feared world. Beaches in New England are next for testing tolerance for changing social practices.
“It will definitely be different,” said Mitch Tavares, of South Kingstown, as the young man walked up from the sand to the parking lot at the South Kingstown Town Beach. Yellow tape blocks off the usual grassy parking areas.
It’s all part of limiting crowds and taking precautions for beach administrators while for individuals it’s about balancing enjoyment with fear. They said finding that balance will be like enjoying the beach sunshine without getting a bad burn.
Caution and precaution are the words that keep coming up.
A Different Beach Experience
At the South Kingstown Town Beach, neatly painted white lines marked parking spaces where none existed in past years. In years past it was park wherever you can.
Tavares gazed back to the water for a moment, then to the sky. “Rather than looking at the weather and saying this is a good day to go to the beach, you’ll be looking to go when there’s not a ton of people here,” he said.
Social distancing requirements of 15-feet between blankets or towels that limit numbers can invite hesitation about going, but finding gates shut and long lines of waiting cars in stifling hot 90-degree weather is another consideration, many said.
“If it’s 90 degrees, I’ll just stay home in the air conditioning,” said Kenny Mason, who with his wife, Mary, had planted their chairs in the sand at the South Kingstown Town Beach. It was among their first visits after moving to the town last October.
“And if it’s crowded,” added Mary, “I won’t come.”
About 25 feet away were Jason and Kelly Zelinsky, who own a second home in Matunuck and live in Vernon, Conn. Their two children, Camryn, 9, and Morgan, 6, played in the sand in front of family beach chairs just above the rippling edge of the calm ocean.
“It’s early in the season. I don’t know how it will play out in June and July,” said Jason, adding that “building sand castles close to other people is something we won’t be doing this year.”
He said that everyone going to the beach needs to be cautious and follow the rules set by the town and the state.
Not far away, at East Matunuck State Beach, Aya Rothwell, was one of about 10 people on this wide and expansive sandy oceanfront that can accommodate thousands. She held the string for her kite diving and soaring overhead in the breeze.
“I am so happy that I can access the beach at all,” she said about her fears just a few months ago that beaches would be shut for the summer. She said she doesn’t plan to wear a mask unless close to others.
Her comments about mask wearing, like those of others, centered whether this new apparel is necessary only when close to people she doesn’t know.
Brenda Brouillette, a Pawtucket teacher who lives in Matunuck, said her mask was packed in a nearby bag – and will be throughout the summer should she need it.
Barefaced, and walking many yards away in the water with her dog, was Nancy Yale, who summers in the area.
She said she doesn’t anticipate needing a mask because all she does is walk along the beach and then goes home.
For these and other beach-goers this summer, state and federal officials offered the following advice that changes the experience:
Keep your distance from others to promote safe health practices. There are still many cases of the coronavirus undetected. Help prevent further spread of the disease and especially to protect the sick or those with compromised health conditions who can be easily infected and develop symptoms.
Keep only with your family members or those in your group. Groups should be small, limited to no more than five - until officials expand that number. Social distancing guidelines have promoted gathering with only immediate household members.
Keep at least six feet – 15 feet if possible – from beach blankets or towels of other people not in your party.
Masks on the beach? They are another measure of protection, no matter how much they don’t fit with traditional beach style. Bring face coverings to use them when you are in close proximity to others, needing first aid, talking to a lifeguard or buying food at a concession stand.
Ignoring the guidelines can cause further upticks in infection rates, especially when tied to beach gatherings. This could mean beaches may either further limit numbers admitted or close entirely if social distancing guidelines are not followed.
Changes for Lifeguards
Beach-goers are not the only ones with new guidelines noted lifeguard Captain Paul Sayour at the South Kingstown Town Beach. He said that lifeguards will also be operating under different rules.
Sayour has been a lifeguard for about seven years and this will be the first time he and others throughout the state will need to follow strict disease-prevention measures.
He said that guards have been trained on the new procedures needed during a time when disease transmission can happen so easily with large numbers of people on a beach or with those needed rescue in the water.
“Our number one priority is to keep patrons and swimmers safe. I am confident that everyone is on board - the patrons, the management and the guards,” he said.
State as well as South Kingstown and Narragansett officials explained the various changes affecting lifeguard operations this year due to the Coronavirus and precautions towns are taking.
They do not want any guards, sick for any reason, reporting to work.
All guards will have their temperature taken at the start of every shift.
Social distancing will be required.
Lifeguards will carry with them at all times a fanny pack. The pack will consist of gloves, sanitizer, alcohol wipes, and a face mask.
Face shields will be placed in all first aid stations and on the roaming utility vehicle. These face shields will be used solely for close proximity encounters (i.e. heat exhaustion, major first aid, etc.).
There will be a maximum of two lifeguards on a chair at one time in Narragansett and guards must sit on opposite ends of the seat, approximately 6 feet apart. In South Kingstown there will be only one guard per chair with another guard at the shoreline in front.
In Narragansett every chair will have a carbon glass divider to protect both guards from close proximity, but no dividers will be used in South Kingstown since there will be only one guard per chair
In the event of a water rescue, secondary guards (on shore guards) will have masks and gloves on and will take over as soon as rescuing guards reach the shallow water.
Rescuing guards will immediately decontaminate.
In Narragansett a tent will be set up behind Chair 2 and will be used as a first aid station for minor injuries and in South Kingstown a specific area of the pavilion will be utilized for first aid.
The lifeguard 4-x-4 utility vehicle will have oxygen, emergency medical technician jump bag/first aid, spine board, and other disinfectants to respond to incidents anywhere on the beach.
The first aid room will be used ONLY when absolutely necessary (e.g. major heat exhaustion, major medical issues, etc.).
Anytime there is contact made with a patron where social distancing measures are broken (6 feet of distance apart), a call needs to be made on the radio to notify a lifeguard captain.
In Narragansett, every chair will have a hand sanitizer pump. Every time guards climb up onto a chair they will be required to sanitize with hand sanitizer. In South Kingstown guards will be required to wash and sanitize hands before and after taking position in chair.
All lifeguards are required to wear a face mask while addressing a patron. When speaking, no physical contact (e.g. handshaking) should be made.
The first aid room will be sanitized each time a patron leaves the room.
There will be perimeter/boundary marks added in front of all first aid room doors keeping the general public distant from the sanitized space.
For safety of general public and lifeguards, there will be a re-enforcing 15-foot perimeter around lifeguard chairs for 2020 season in Narragansett, while there will be a minimum six-foot perimeter around guard chairs in South Kingstown.
Patrons will be reminded when approaching lifeguards to please have the courtesy of wearing a face covering.
Lifeguards shall wear masks and gloves whenever dealing with the public: This includes first aid, lost child searches, assisting handicapped individuals, and any other close contact with visitors.
In the event of a water rescue, the lifeguards entering the water should not wear a mask. Secondary guards must have masks and gloves on and take over as soon as the rescuing guards reach the shoreline.
BVM (bag valve mask) will be the only acceptable way of delivering rescue breaths.
Lifeguard equipment that is not assigned to an individual guard, including, but not limited to, the lifeguard chair, torp buoy, first aid kit, rescue board, surfboards, dinghy, oars and flags must be disinfected after each use, between shift changes, and at the end of the day.