After mingling led to COVID-19 outbreak among lifeguards, Lachine couldn't find substitutes
Lifeguards and emergency crews take part in a drowning exercise in Orillia, Ont. on Thursday, July 13, 2017. (CTV Barrie)
MONTREAL -- When an entire borough’s worth of lifeguards had to be sent home for COVID-19 quarantine last week after socializing together, the City of Montreal says they tried and failed to find replacement staff to keep the pools open.
As Montreal contends with summer heat, Lachine has been doing without its public pools since July 22 and won’t see them reopened until Aug. 6.
That’s because every lifeguard from the borough was asked to stay home for a two-week quarantine after one lifeguard tested positive for COVID-19, the city has explained.
Local media have reported the lifeguards were at a party together. But one person who knows some of the Lachine lifeguard says the after-hours events are common among the lifeguards, so it likely would be hard to pin all the transmission to a single party.
There’s “lots of extracurricular socializing,” the person said, with “late nights.”
That person knows of seven Lachine lifeguards who have tested positive—a number that came not from an official count, but from updates from those seven people. The number could be higher.
The city announced this week it was extending the group’s self-isolation, and therefore the pool closures, until the end of Aug. 5, though city officials said they were “developing different reopening scenarios according to the evolution of the situation.”
The city isn’t commenting on the reason for the outbreak, simply saying it “can be attributed to an external event” and that behaviour outside the workplace is an “individual responsibility.”
A city spokesperson said that borough officials tried to keep public pools available, even trying to borrow some staff from two private pools in Lachine. But it didn’t work out.
The two local private pools “are already at or near maximum capacity for their members and cannot accommodate more citizens,” city spokesperson Gonzalo Nunez said in an email.
“A private pool has offered a few part-time lifeguards, but it’s hard to do the process of recruiting, training and integrating these new lifeguards to our facilities in a matter of days. They would be ready at the same time as the regular lifeguards would be returning.”
He said that most young people “have generally found work in early summer” so it’s hard to ask them to step in halfway through the season, especially for limited hours.
The Quebec Lifesaving Society says there was a glut of people willing to work this year, though, and the problems were probably more logistical.
“I'm a little bit surprised and confused about the answer from Lachine when they say they have a lack of lifeguards,” said Raynald Hawkins, the director of the Lifesaving Society, which oversees training and certification for lifeguards.
A survey this spring to the society's members—15,000 people in Quebec—found that more people were looking for lifeguarding work than in most years, he said.
At the beginning of the summer the City of Montreal trained “over 100 to be ready on deck,” he said, but a lot were also put on the reserve list.
“I know some lifeguards didn't find jobs because swimming pools were closed” in some areas because of COVID-19 and were never opened, he said. The city didn’t put a notice on the Lifesaving Society website or seem to advertise for substitutes, he said.
Hawkins said he couldn’t comment on what led to the closure.
At the beginning of June, all aquatic staff were taught “everything we know about COVID-19,” he said, “to make sure they know what exactly it means for them, but you know, I don't know exactly what happened.”