As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, health care workers aren’t the only professionals in need of personal protective equipment. With the governor’s announcement that state beaches will open for Memorial Day weekend, masks, face shields and surgical gowns will now become part of every public lifeguards’ medical kit.
Thanks to generous member donations to the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund, the statewide union delivered 1,600 surgical masks to two lifeguard locals NYSUT represents on Long Island — the New York State Lifeguards’ Corps, representing about 1,200 seasonal lifeguards statewide, half of whom work on Long Island, and the Tobay Ocean Lifeguard Association, representing about 50 Oyster Bay guards. NYSLC members are represented under the umbrella of United University Professions, NYSUT’s local representing members in higher education. NYSUT also donated masks to one of its newest locals in Suffolk County, the Smith Point Life Guards’ Association.
“Lifeguards provide valuable first aid and other forms of assistance on our state beaches,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta. “ In light of the special challenges the coronavirus presents, we’re happy that we can help these members prepare for the start the summer season.”
“Ensuring that our members have the protective equipment they need to safely carry out their jobs is our top concern,” said Philippe Abraham, NYSUT secretary treasurer, whose office heads the disaster relief fund. To date, the fund has raised nearly $115,000 thanks to generous member contributions. “We’re so thankful for the generosity of donors, which allows us to offer a helping hand to members. As I’ve said before, as we raise more, we will provide more.”
The May 15th announcement that Long Island state beaches would open at 50 percent capacity for the Memorial Day weekend caught NYSLC members off guard, said President Ryan Clark. “We were figuring on an opening in late June or early July,” said Clark a part-time seasonal lifeguard, full-time high school social studies teacher and Bellmore-Merrick United Secondary Teachers member.
The governor’s announcement mandates a new approach to guarding the beach — solo versus tandem chair-sits along the ocean, six-feet of social distancing for guards at the main lifeguard stand and, for the first time ever, using masks, surgical gowns and facial shields to administer care. “We’re assuming everyone is infected,” said Clark. “If we have to administer CPR we don’t know if it’s from a bad heart or COVID-19.”
In the wake of PPE shortages, the guards worried they wouldn’t have adequate protection for the sooner-than-expected opening. “Out of an abundance of caution, we asked for PPE for our members,” said Clark noting that although the New York State Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation department is working to provide lifeguards with PPE, the union donation offers peace of mind. “Since the masks are single use, it’s good knowing that we can dispose of them and know we’ll have one for the next day.”
As NYSUT members statewide risk their lives serving on the front lines during the COVID-19 crisis, NYSUT urges members to donate to the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund. All proceeds go directly toward purchasing and providing PPE, food and other supplies for impacted members.
The statewide union has donated over 200,000 masks to date. Past recipients include members at hospitals, visiting nurse agencies, nursing homes and other sites throughout Long Island, New York City, Buffalo, Albany, Syracuse and the Hudson Valley.