Grand Strand beaches face lifeguard staffing issues due to coronavirus restrictions

Coronavirus causes lifeguard staffing issues along the Grand Strand

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - As more and more people head back to the beaches, so will the lifeguards to keep the waters safe.

But the coronavirus pandemic has actually caused some staffing issues for parts of the Grand Strand.

There were two lifeguards patrolling all of North Myrtle Beach this weekend. According to the city’s spokesperson Pat Dowling, that’s pretty standard this time of year.

“While there were tons of people on the beach, the water is still cold at 68 degrees," said Dowling. "Not a lot of people want to go swimming in that without a wet suit.”

Once the water warms up, the city of North Myrtle Beach usually uses somewhere between 50 and 100 lifeguards to man the 54 lifeguard stations in city limits.

In a normal year, that would be no problem, but the coronavirus has created some obstacles when it comes to training those lifeguards.

“We’ve got all the applications we need, we just haven’t had time to train them as we normally do April through May, simply because the public pools are closed," said Dowling. "The one at the Aquatic Fitness Center is public, and all the hotel pools are public, so we’ve been asking the governor to open those pools up.”

While North Myrtle Beach hopes to train enough lifeguards in time, Lacks, the company that provides lifeguards for Horry County and Myrtle Beach, has managed to schedule a certification class, but still doesn’t have anywhere near its usual number of lifeguards.

“A lot of our staff in summer’s past has been J1 Visa students," said Lacks Operations Manager Weslyn Lacks-Chiggering. "Those kids aren’t able to get here right now, so we have relied on an American workforce.”

Lacks has ATVs that lifeguards can use to cover several blocks to expand each lifeguard’s usual coverage area if need be.

They’ve also equipped all the lifeguards with masks, hand gel and spray virucide.

“We’ve conveyed to the city that I think it will look a little bit different this summer, but it will be just as efficient and just as safe," said Lacks-Chiggering.

It is worth noting all the beaches also have police patrolling, so they will make sure people stay safe, even with a potential lifeguard shortage.

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