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Oahu lifeguards will remain on watch during upcoming closure of beaches

Mindy Pennybacker

While city and state beaches will be closed under COVID-19 emergency rules from 12:01 a.m. Saturday through midnight Sept. 4, people will be allowed to traverse the sands for the sole purpose of getting into the ocean for exercise, fishing or traditional gathering, and lifeguards in the Honolulu City and County Department of Ocean Safety will continue to keep watch from their towers and vehicles island-wide, Ocean Safety Chief John Titchen said Friday.

“We will try to maintain the same level of both tower and mobile service from the start during this period of beach park closures,” Titchen said. “We have new utility terrain vehicles (UTVs) and trucks purchased with CARES Act money that enable us to expand our mobile coverage at a moment’s notice if we see people are recreating in ocean areas away from closed beach parks.”

The department will be monitoring, evaluating and making adjustments daily “in an effort to ensure we are providing blanket coverage to all areas where people will be lawfully recreating in the near shore waters of Oahu,” he said, “while ensuring its men and women stay safe as we do what’s possible to maintain social distancing, so that they in turn can keep others safe.”

That means ensuring lifeguards maintain safe social distancing from the general public until they are needed for a rescue, as well as distancing from one another in towers and mobile units, Titchen added.

Asked what lifeguards would do if they observe violations of the emergency rules, such as people lingering or gathering in groups on beaches, the chief said the department is in communication with with the Honolulu Police Department but lifeguards are there to warn against and help prevent risks to safety, and conduct rescues as needed, but their role is not to enforce rules and laws themselves.

“Ocean Safety routinely works closely with HPD (in) identifying enforcement issues or potential problems, but Ocean Safety has no enforcement powers of its own and its employees are deployed solely to prevent and respond to emergencies on the beaches and in the near shore waters of Oahu,” Titchen said.

The chief added the department will also work closely with the city Department of Parks and Recreation on access to beach parks while they are closed, to ensure staff access to towers, equipment storage, and employee parking during the projected 4-week closure.

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