City beaches are not being staffed by lifeguards today although city officials are acknowledging that they cannot stop people from going to the sandy part of the beach.
“Honolulu Ocean Safety is not on duty today due to a safety stand down,” Emergency Services Director Jim Howe said in a statement. “The lifeguards need to be properly equipped with PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) as they may come into contact with infected persons while administering medical treatment.”
The Honolulu Fire Department, the Honolulu Emergency Medical Services and Honolulu Police Department will respond to emergencies, Howe said.
The situation is leaving those who do venture out to the beach without any lifeguard protection.
Star-Advertiser reporters who visited Sandy Beach and Kuhio Beach this morning said there are crowds showing up at the beach but no lifeguards on duty.
City parks, including beach parks, were ordered closed by Caldwell Wednesday. However, the sandy area of beaches between the water and the “high water mark” of the sand are state jurisdiction, making it problematic for police or lifeguards to tell people they cannot go onto the sand and the ocean.
Indications from Caldwell and Managing Director Roy Amemiya were that, as a result of this cross-jurisdiction, lifeguards would be on duty.
Nathan Serota, city Parks and Recreation Department spokesman, confirmed this morning that the city is allowing the public to access the sandy part of the beach. “Yes, by law, you are allowed to traverse a park even when it is closed, in order to access the beach,” Serota said in an email. “You may not stay in the park.”
Additionally, a Hawaii court ruled in a 1990s Hawaii island case that Native Hawaiians have gathering rights which requires the state to allow access to mountains and beaches.
Howe told members of the City Council Public Safety and Welfare Committee this morning “people should not be at the beach, this is a time to hunker down, be at home.”
In the coming days, lifeguards returning to work will not be stationed at their guard towers but work in a mobile capacity, Howe told committee members at this morning’s meeting at Honolulu Hale.
The city has 212 full-time lifeguards and 35 contract ones, EMS spokeswoman Shayne Enright said.
One lifeguard, who asked not to be identified, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser this morning that he and his colleagues were instructed at the end of the day Wednesday to call in to their superiors this morning to receive orders on where to go. But when they called, they were told to stay on standby for the time being, the source said.
Meanwhile, Serota, the parks spokesman, clarified the parks closure situation. All parks facilities — including the comfort stations and parking lots within them — remain closed.
This morning, Honolulu police officers were seen asking parkgoers at Ala Moana Regional Park to leave.
Serota said that scene could also be playing out at parks elsewhere on the island.
“The goal of these closures is to minimize large gatherings of people and encourage social distancing,” Serota said. “Police can cite you for remaining in a park, but normally they warn park goers first to give them an opportunity to leave. We don’t want people getting cited for this, but we have to take precautions to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”