By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
In his 28 years as a lifeguard in Sea Isle City, Lt. Mike McCormick has never had to wear a face covering.
But there he was on Saturday, wearing a bandana-style face covering that he pulled over his mouth and nose when he spoke to members of the public.
“It’s a different time right now and we have to adjust. The last thing we want to do is regress and have to shut down again,” McCormick said of the coronavirus restrictions.
As the Memorial Day holiday weekend unfolds at the shore, there are obvious signs that Sea Isle’s employees, residents and visitors are adjusting to the pandemic by observing social distancing – and even wearing a mask or another type of face covering when appropriate.
Beachgoers crowded the shoreline and plunged into the slightly chilly water while savoring the gorgeous weather that prevailed through most of the afternoon on Saturday.
But beachgoers and other visitors seemed to heed the advice of Sea Isle officials – as well as the array of social distancing signs and banners the city has placed around town – to remain at least 6 feet apart from strangers.
“In each vehicle, we have disposable masks and hand sanitizers. We have about 10 masks in each car,” Al Giumetti, a visitor from Pilesgrove Township, N.J., explained of the precautions he and his family are taking during the pandemic.
Giumetti and his wife, Betty, were joined by their grandchildren, Rocco, 8, and Gabrielle, 6, as they strolled down Sea Isle’s oceanfront Promenade. They were careful not to venture too close to strangers.
After observing the governor’s stay-at-home orders for the past two months, they were happy to finally leave the confines of their house for a relaxing holiday getaway at the shore.
“In the environment at the shore, there is fresh, clean air blowing around. Staying in the house is not good for you,” Al Giumetti said. “You’ve got more of a chance of getting sick at the supermarket than you do here.”
Out on the beach, lifeguards were practicing several forms of social distancing. In the past, two of them would share a lifeguard stand while keeping watch over swimmers.
This summer, there is one lifeguard per stand. However, Sea Isle has placed two lifeguard stands, safely apart, on each beach to maintain the same level of protection.
“Basically, we’re following all of the recommended guidelines,” McCormick said of the beach patrol’s social distancing precautions. “We’re actually going above and beyond those guidelines. We’re doing it because we hope to get back to normal as soon as possible.”
Lifeguards are sterilizing their stands each morning and disinfecting their equipment, including their radios. They also have face coverings that they will wear if they come in close contact with the public.
Sea Isle’s ubiquitous beach tag inspectors, who began their summer duties over the Memorial Day weekend, are wearing masks to help protect them – and the beachgoers they mingle with – from COVID-19.
Beach tag inspectors traditionally come in close contact with the public, which will present challenges at a time when social distancing is key to preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“They’ll definitely be wearing masks, because they have to get within 6 feet of everyone,” city spokeswoman Katherine Custer noted in an interview last week.
Adhering to the 6-foot rule, beachgoers interviewed Saturday said they deliberately picked spots on the sand that were far enough away from strangers.
Frank Butch, an engineer from West Chester, Pa., studied the tide charts so he would know when the beach had the most space available at low tide.
“We referenced the tide charts because we wanted to make sure,’ said Butch, who was lounging in a beach chair near the water’s edge while joined by his wife, Stacey, and their 10-year-old daughter, Sophia.
Not far down the beach, Carmen Reed, of Philadelphia, was watching her sons, Nick, 10, and Joey, 7, and her 5-year-old daughter, Brianna, digging in the sand with their plastic shovels.
Reed said she is protecting her children from the coronavirus both on the beach and off. She noted, for instance, that the kids stay home when she goes grocery shopping. On the beach, they remain a safe distance from strangers.
“We picked a place that had plenty of distance on the beach. We made sure we were close to the water,” Reed said.