In the era that the current Covid-19 lockdown on sport is waived in Uganda, the life swimmers, lifeguards and coaches save could be their own. Water is one of the areas that spreads Covid-19 and so is aquatics.
For the swimmers, coaches, lifeguards, staying six feet (two metres) away from another person who is swimming or drowning is not an option given the set up of the facilities and nature of interaction in these facilities. If a swimmer cries out for help. The lifeguard races to the rescue and before they reach the water, the corona virus risk calculation begins.
Every lifeguard or coach knows that to save a life they could lose their own, that the person they are trying to rescue can potentially pull them down, as well, now they will have to worry more about Covid-19 on top of that. When we swim out to a victim in distress, it depends on their condition, If they can manage, we will hand them a flotation device for them to hold onto and then we can swim them into shore while keeping a safe distance.
But if they’re in dire condition and cannot keep themselves afloat, we’re going to have to make direct contact with them and secure them onto the rescue can, That is something all lifeguards have to understand and assume a risk.
The lifeguards or coaches have to undergo training to better manage their roles in relation to Covid-19 guidelines for what is the ideal new norm. Coaches and lifeguards are used to going up close and touching while talking to people who need their help in the pools. We’ve got to slow it down now.
At the end of the day, there are going to be times when they have to get really close, But there are lots of ways to minimize the impact. In response to the pandemic, we shall take new suggested guidelines which are recommendable among other things, to avoid touching other people, including fellow coaches and lifeguards - unless necessary.
It does not ensure prevention of disease transmission, but lessens the likelihood. Universal precautions should include at a minimum gloves, N95 or recommended masks, and eye protection. Many of these are common basic recommendations that have been in place even before the Coronavirus pandemic - times when HIV and other communicable diseases were and still the main threats.
Most of us who grew up watching Baywatch, might not be surprised to find out that lifeguards rarely have to rescue people from the water and that the biggest part of their job is preventing people from getting into trouble. Another question is about swimmers’ safety if the supervision is under threat as analysed above.
Will protection be the norm to the guarded water bodies and non guarded facilities when lockdown is uplifted? Up in the (lifeguard) towers, they are self-isolated from the public so the personal protective equipment (PPE) is optional. But we also have facilities with no towers while the swimming coaches operate by the poolside close to the swimmers with less than two-metres distance.
In an emergency, all aquatic victims are assessed from a two meter distance from which we can determine whether this is a life, or non-life-threatening emergency.
Aquatic facilities can concentrate on better incident management practices by being more proactive and efficient with the Covid-19 guidelines while still giving the best possible care to their clients as short of these expectations they should not operate the facilities.
Lifeguards, coaches in the water coordinate closely with ambulance, police, fire rescue teams and now the new Covid-19 Medical Task Teams respectively to make sure they are on deck or beaches ready to provide First Aid and referrals once the stricken swimmer is brought to shore.
Swim coaches and lifeguards in the water will have to use hand signals to communicate with the team waiting on the deck or beach, with social distancing the use of hand signs as mode of communication will have to be taught and be popular to all parties.
The coaches and lifeguards are also expected to instruct pool and beach goers to take precautionary measures as they use the aquatic facilities.
Every aquatic facility is highly advised and perhaps needs to have a post lockdown recovery plan, Covid-19 prevention plan, task team and facility hygiene on site for the aquatic department. This requires training and sensitising all staff especially those working with beaches, pools, spa, steam, sauna, health clubs and water parks.
Shortfalls from the above will pose more risks and hinder authorisation from authorities to resume normal business as water and other facilities that bring people together in a moisturised environment are some of the biggest medium of Covid-19 transmission and infections.
Mr Mukasa is an Aquatics Consultant. Instructor at Uganda Lifesaving Federation (ULF) and International Lifesaving Federation (ILS). firstname.lastname@example.org