Lifeguards weigh in on possibility of beaches closing

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Tuesday was busy.

Companies nationwide announced temporary closures in efforts to prevent the further spreading of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. Movie-goers and shoppers were shocked when told AMC Theatres and Macy’s would be shutting their doors.

Later that day, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered all bars and nightclubs to close for 30 days. DeSantis also advised restaurants to cut their capacity down by half.

Friday, DeSantis ordered the eateries to limit their services to delivery or take-out. The governor also demanded that public gyms and fitness centers close.

Now, the beaches, a place where people go to relax, lay back and simply have fun, could also be shut down if the state or county issues mandatory orders. That hasn’t happened yet, but Erik Toomsoo, president of the Vero Beach Lifeguard Association, said he hopes there is no need to make such a move.

“The beach is one of the last places people can go. It’s out in the open and it’s free,” Toomsoo said. “We have to take advice from professionals and do what they say. We have to think about everyone’s safety before we think about the inconvenience.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommended individuals to not gather in groups larger than 10 people. The federal agency – overseeing the government’s response to the virus – also advised people to stay at least six feet away from each other.

Toomsoo said the city beaches – Humiston Park, Jaycee Park and South Beach Park – are not as crowded as shores in Fort Lauderdale or Miami, which have been shut down.

Toomsoo said lifeguards already have their hands full with scanning the waters and rescuing swimmers in distress.

“We’re so busy out there, we can’t take our eyes off the water to make sure people don’t crowd in large groups,” Toomsoo said.

But, Toomsoo added that lifeguards run into difficulties when rescuing people on the beach who are separated. Some beachgoers venture off past the guarded areas, he said.

Toomsoo said city lifeguards rescued three people from rip currents within the past two days. Toomsoo said he has not been informed of any plans by the city, county or state to close the beaches at this point.

“When beaches are closed during the hurricanes, people are still out there whether you enforce it or not,” Toomsoo said. “It remains to be seen how all this will play out.”

Law enforcement officials said there could be possible consequences for people who still head to the beach if authorities decide to shut them down. Indian River County sheriff’s spokesman Maj. Eric Flowers said the agency has the power to enforce that order since a state of emergency has already been issued.

“We don’t want to take people to jail. We want them to comply with the order,” Flowers said. “Every case is different. Our goal is to keep the peace. We want everyone to be safe.”



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