It’s been months since we’ve all been attempting to practice social distancing and quarantine efforts, but this coronavirus pandemic is still alive and rampant. As the number of cases in the U.S. continues to grow, some folk have grown tired of stay-at-home efforts and are hitting the beach for summer. But such a move doesn’t come without risk. In New Jersey, a state that began to see a decline in the number of novel coronavirus cases, more than 20 lifeguards tested positive for COVID-19 after gathering together socially, officials said Friday.
According to the Associated Press, the lifeguards are from the New Jersey towns of Harvey Cedars and Surf City, neighboring boroughs on Long Beach Island. Island health officials alerted city officials to the cluster of cases Thursday after the lifeguards were made to quarantine. Long Beach Island Health Department director Daniel J. Krupinski told WHYY the lifeguards were allegedly at not one but two “social gatherings” together.
“The health department started receiving reports of COVID-19 activity among Surf City lifeguards on Saturday, July 18 and Harvey Cedars lifeguards on Sunday, July 19,” Krupinski said. He reiterated that the cases resulted from outside, and not on-the-job, activity.
On Saturday officials from Harvey Cedars confirmed that 17 lifeguards, all of whom had attended a party, tested positive for COVID-19, in addition to a dozen lifeguards from Surf City confirmed positive earlier. Harvey Cedars Mayor Jonathan Oldham told NJ.com that while he does not know exactly where the gathering took place, all the lifeguards would be quarantined and not allowed to work again without approval from health professionals.
On its website, Harvey Cedars said that with at least 73 lifeguards, “beaches will remain fully staffed with all safety protocols in place,” the AP reported. While Surf City also plans to remain open, it said “adjustments may be made from day to day to ensure the safety of all patrons and guards.”
New Jersey isn’t the only state to have lifeguards test positive this week. According to NBC News, at least 11 lifeguards tested positive in Los Angeles on Sunday.
Health officials believe indoor parties are to blame for an increase in lifeguard-related COVID-19 cases. “We certainly have evidence that indoor parties associated with beach towns and other places have occurred,” Dr. Ed Lifshitz, director of the New Jersey Department of Health’s communicable disease division, told WHYY last month.
While health officials believe these cases have arisen from “community spread” and not work-related activities, lifeguards still remain at risk due to having to make direct contact with individuals in need of help on the beach. As more and more people hit the beach this summer both with and without masks, a surge in cases is inevitable. While many towns have social distancing guidelines in place, monitoring how people attend the beach and observe social distancing is difficult.
At the beginning of the pandemic, New Jersey was one of the first states to be hit the hardest. While New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced a drop in new COVID-19 cases Friday, the state reported at least 30 new deaths since then, bringing the state total to over 15,000 deaths. According to The New York Times database, at least 11 new deaths as a result of coronavirus and 505 new cases were reported in New Jersey on July 26. While the state saw a drop in cases two weeks ago, its average has now risen 27% since then. As of this report, New Jersey has reported a total of 181,732 cases of COVID-19 and 15,804 deaths as a result.