• Gareth Hedges

COVID-19 and Lifeguards: Care and Compassion First

Photo by Eleanor Hedges

I’ve received a lot of questions from aquatics professionals lately: What do I do to maintain my pool chemistry right now? How do I keep my lifeguard staff trained without body contact? What do we do if our certifications expire? These are all important questions to be sure, but as we all begin to understand the scope of the COVID-19 disruption—and come to understand the severe human and economic devastation that is unfolding before us—it is important to put things in perspective and prioritize.

The scope of the COVID-19 pandemic is sobering. As of writing this on April 1, there are nearly 900,000 confirmed cases worldwide, with over 43,000 deaths. In the United States, we have over 180,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths. More people have died from COVID-19 in the United States than died in the September 11 attacks. And we are only just beginning. Conservative model estimates for the United States show that more Americans will likely die from COVID-19 in the next few weeks than died in the Korean and Vietnam wars, combined. No, we won’t be open by Easter. And the true scope of the economic, humanitarian, and geopolitical crisis that will follow the acute healthcare crisis we currently face is only beginning to come into view.

So let’s slow down. We’ve been quarantined. Isolated. Distanced. Ordered to stay at home. This is hard for us. As lifeguards, we are committed to saving lives and caring for others. We’re the people up and at the pool from 5am till 10pm. We thrive on social interaction—coaching, teaching, and training. But now in order to save lives, we need to stay home. Do it. Most of us won’t get sick. And for those of us that do, the vast majority of us will recover. But as the outbreak in New York shows us—and as the coming outbreaks in Detroit, New Orleans, and other areas will show us—our best weapon for fighting the virus spread and saving lives is social isolation, and if we miss the opportunity, the spread is swift. So it’s time to stay home and to hibernate.

Hibernating means to take care of yourself, your family, and your loved ones first. Everything else can wait for a moment. This is a time of collective worldwide trauma. We are hurting and grieving the loss of a world we won’t be getting back. Everyone is experiencing this to one degree or another, but those of us who have experienced trauma before, or who do not have a safe home to shelter in, or who have mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, or substance abuse issues face an even more difficult challenge right now. Our children are experiencing a trauma that will shape their lives. I don’t bring this up to cause despair, but to point out that identifying this in ourselves and in others leads to a prioritization of care for ourselves and compassion for others first, before anything else.

So now, and for the next week, engage in comforting activities first. For some of us this is diving into work, and that is ok, but be compassionate to those who cope by distancing from work too. Give your employees permission to disconnect. The email or webinar can wait. It may be spending time with your kids, or playing video games, or binge-watching Netflix. That’s OK right now. That’s what we need. We all need the time and compassion to process, adjust, and create healthy spaces for ourselves.

That’s all for now. There will be time for more later, and time to answer all the questions on how we open up our facilities to a new world. But for today, and for as long as you need, take care of yourself.

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