Lifeguard union asking San Diego to protect guards more amid COVID-19

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Posted at 6:10 PM, Apr 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-03 13:58:06-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The local lifeguard union wants the city to do more to protect its guards.

This comes a few days after learning that four lifeguards tested positive for COVID-19. At least 17 others are "presumed positive." A local union leader is pressing officials for answers.

Chris Vanos is the chief steward of Teamsters 911, the union that represents the City of San Diego's lifeguards, run by the Department of Fire-Rescue. This Thursday afternoon, he told 10News that the union has asked the city to have beach stations and towers cleaned by a third party.

“It might be a big call for the City of San Diego to professionally clean each and every one of these stations if someone's exposed to COVID-19 but I think if you're going to have your safety personnel working out there, police, fire, lifeguards, there should be some precautions, extra precautions, for these members,” he added.

Vanos said that currently, lifeguards are responsible for doing their own cleaning. Even though several beach closures are in effect, the lifeguards are still busy doing enforcement and education. He added that up until last week, city lifeguards were quarantined if they'd been exposed to someone who was symptomatic but the city has since reserved that, per CDC guidelines.

“If you're asymptomatic, you're still required to come to work even if you've been in contact with someone who has it or shown signs or symptoms of it,” Vanos said.

When asked if he felt that was okay, Vanos replied, “At this point, yes."

Vanos said otherwise they'd have a staffing crisis because of the explosion in coronavirus cases among the general public.

In addition to cleaning requests, the union has asked the city to reveal what it's doing to track and trace the cluster within the lifeguard unit and what steps are being taken to reduce the virus spread among guards and their families.

On Thursday, the City of San Diego provided the following response to 10News.

"SD Fire-Rescue works closely with the firefighter, lifeguard and dispatcher unions. Union representatives are present for discussions about the recent changes to protocol because of the pandemic. Both the firefighter and lifeguard union presidents were in agreement when the discussions about quarantine status took place. SD Fire-Rescue follows the CDC and SD County Public Health guidelines as well as the direction of our City Medical Directors when placing employees under isolation if they exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 or if they test positive for the virus. All health care professionals and fire agencies in our county follow the same guidelines and protocol. Fire stations or lifeguard stations have been disinfected by personnel or a professional contractor when a sick employee was at that work location. Each occurrence is considered and certainly, the disinfection will take place if necessary. Each fire station and lifeguard station are disinfected by employees at least twice daily by employees. Often, this process takes place several times throughout the day and includes the apparatus used by firefighters and lifeguards. Each work location has disinfection solution (spray bottles), hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes. Of course, employees are also encouraged to wash their hands with soap and water several times throughout their work day. In addition, each employee performs a twice-daily health screening which is reviewed or performed by their supervisor. Health screenings include a series of questions as to whether the employee is having certain symptoms and each employee’s temperature is taken and recorded. If the health screening reveals an employee who is ill, the employee is sent home and the work location will be evaluated to be disinfected. SDFD is also making sure all their employees know that if they feel sick, they should not report to work. Instead, they should stay home, notify the dedicated infectious control officer immediately for assistance and seek care from their health care provider if necessary. It’s important to note that, as first responders, we will have employees who become sick. Some will contract COVID-19 and others will deal with routine illnesses that are common among the population (colds and seasonal flu). We have protocols in place to take care of our employees regardless of whether they are a firefighter, lifeguard or civilian employee. And while the risk of contracting COVID-19 is different among the variety of positions that exist in SDFD, we treat all ill employees appropriately as far as medical care and treatment and follow up care for those who contract COVID-19. Presently there is one firefighter recovering from testing positive for COVID-19 and four lifeguards who are also recovering from positive results of COVID-19 tests. We are also providing a variety of behavioral health tools for all our employees during this pandemic. Those include: chaplains available to speak with our employees and their families; psychologists and counselors available to speak with our employees and their families; peer support members available to speak with our employees and their families and all employees are covered by the City’s health care providers for additional resources. While we know this is a difficult time for everyone, it is particularly difficult for first responders. But first responders are not strangers to trauma. As you may know, firefighters and lifeguards will see more trauma in short periods of time than many individuals will see in their entire lifetimes. Traumatic incidents and stressful situations are not new to our employees and these behavioral support resources were in place before this pandemic hit. In this quickly-changing environment, we are all doing our best to adapt and provide the best care to our employees as well as supporting each other through this situation."