Lifeguards will save you when beaches reopen. It will involve a mask — but not a mouth

Tribune Content Agency

MIAMI — South Florida’s beaches are closed, even as some counties and cities across the state, like Jacksonville and, soon, Sarasota County, have begun the process of reopening theirs.

But what does it mean for lifeguards today, when most Florida beaches are off-limits because of the coranavirus? And what does it mean for the time when lifeguards resume regular duties — as in making beach rescues and coming into close contact with beachgoers in the era of COVID-19?

Lifeguards are, like paramedics, first responders, after all.

That’s been the topic of concern among lifeguard unions nationwide and among lifeguards and their chiefs at staff meetings.

“The subject of protecting our lifeguards from the coronavirus during an ocean rescue, once the beaches are open, has been in the forefront of discussion during our daily roll calls,” said Vincent Canosa, division chief of the Miami Beach Fire Department and Ocean Rescue.

“The safety of our first responders is paramount, and we take it very seriously,” Canosa said. “Recently, the Miami Beach lifeguards were issued face buffs for protection against wind and sun. We will be advising all personnel to utilize their face buff during a rescue, and prior to making contact with the victim, covering their nose and mouth for protection.”

Once on shore, they will place a shield or similar covering on the victim prior to our primary assessment. Additional face buffs will be ordered as part of their uniform shortly,” Canosa said.

Face buffs are mask coverings worn over the lower half of the face, kind of like a bandana or stocking. Lifeguards can wear these buffers to protect against things like sun exposure and, now, a possible barrier against the coronavirus.

As for CPR, the American Heart Association’s guidelines for performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation changed years before the novel COVID-19 came to light in December in China.

Chest compressions — 30 of them — now take precedence over blowing into the victim’s mouth. And when administering air into a victim’s lungs, “mouth to mouth is no longer used during CPR,” Canosa said.

There are plastic barrier devices for CPR with holes or valves that first responders can use to safely blow air into a victim’s lungs without having to directly place mouth to mouth.

“They have been popular for about two years now prior to the virus,” Canosa said of the barriers and the effective standards first responders apply to CPR.

So what have the lifeguards been tasked with on the closed beaches if not ocean rescues?

Working alongside police officers to enforce county rules limiting access to beaches throughout Florida. Sometimes training, too.

In that order.

“Physical training has been limited due to their beach walk enforcement responsibilities,” Canosa said.


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