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Lifeguards protect Oahu beaches with new virus safety rules

HONOLULU (AP) — Oahu’s lifeguards have returned to their towers dotting the island’s public beaches with new rules and strategies for preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

The familiar lifeguard uniforms of yellow shirts and red shorts now also include red face masks, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Wednesday.

Cones have also been placed in the sand to establish 10-foot buffer zones around lifeguard towers since they returned without fanfare nearly two weeks ago.

“We came back to the beaches the day the mayor reopened the parks, April 25,” said Paul Merino, captain of South Shore operations for Honolulu City and County Ocean Safety.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell closed city parks March 18, an order that also shuttered the city and county lifeguard posts.

The ocean safety officers never stopped working, but only stepped down from the beach towers, Merino said.

“We were always on duty,” Merino said. “We have always been out there for the people, on mobile patrols.”

Lifeguards have had personal protective equipment for a long time, including goggles, gloves, aprons, and surgical masks, Merino said.

The equipment is not effective in the ocean, he said, and lifeguards have developed techniques to maintain safe distancing while conducting water interventions.

Lifeguards plan to extend their 12-foot surfboards end to end for those in trouble to hold at a safe distance while awaiting an officer on a personal watercraft to take them to shore.

COVID-19 has been added to the list of life-threatening factors lifeguards try to prevent.