Toronto

Toronto lifeguards concerned about lack of training as public pools set to reopen

Lifeguards employed by the City of Toronto say not enough has been done to safely reopen public pools amid the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

Strict new protocols will keep people safe when swimming, city says

Capacity at public pools will be reduced to 25 per cent at most locations in order to allow for physical distancing between swimmers. (CBC)

Some lifeguards employed by the City of Toronto say not enough has been done to safely reopen public pools amid the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

The city's 58 outdoor pools are reopening this weekend as part of Toronto's SwimTO program. Fifteen of them are open as of Friday while the rest will begin welcoming swimmers on Saturday.

Beaches, splash pads and wading pools are also in the process of reopening as part of the program. Indoor pools will being reopening in July.

But some lifeguards who will be counted on to keep swimmers safe say the reopening has been rushed, leaving little time for adequate training or practising of the new safety protocols.

"They're pushing all these pools to reopen and they're not being very clear about the regulations," said one lifeguard who has worked for the city for multiple years. 

CBC Toronto has agreed not to identify the concerned lifeguards due to employment concerns.

One says she and her colleagues will be expected to perform "slight variations" on existing practices, including resuscitations.

The guidelines, which largely conform to the Lifesaving Society's guide on reopening pools and beaches, call for lifeguards to not use mouth-to-mouth ventilations on drowning victims, unless they have access to a mask with a HEPA filter.

Toronto Mayor John Tory says he's been assured all lifeguards will receive training before the pools reopen. (Grant Linton/CBC)

The lifeguard concerned about the reopening says city staff have received no training or other opportunities to practise using that type of equipment.

"That's very concerning," she said.

Another lifeguard who contacted CBC Toronto voiced similar concerns about how staff are being trained to perform rescues.

She said due to physical distancing measures, lifeguards have not been able to practise the new protocols before the weekend reopening.

City says training has happened, pools will be safe

Toronto Mayor John Tory addressed those concerns at a news conference Friday afternoon at Heron Park outdoor pool. He said all lifeguards returning to work will be properly trained on the adjusted protocols.

"I've been assured there's been training offered and received by every one of the lifeguards for all of the pools," he said while holding up a document containing the new safety measures.

"I think what we're seeing is a natural human reaction to things that are different," Tory added.

He concluded by asking city staff to proactively consult with lifeguards about their comfort levels as the pools begin reopening.

Toronto is implementing a host of new safety measures at the reopened pools, which include reducing capacity to 25 per cent to make physical distancing possible.

All pool users will also be required to provide their names as well as a phone number or email address to facilitate contact tracing if there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 at a pool.

"Staff have worked closely with Toronto Public Health to meet guidelines to ensure people can swim safely at outdoor pools," according to a city news release.

Swimmers will also be limited to a maximum of 45 minutes in the pool to allow for hourly cleaning.

Despite those measures, some of the concerned lifeguards say they are being unfairly asked to assume a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 due to the nature of their work.

"If someone was in the pool and needed to be rescued, someone would have to go in without a mask, a lifeguard would have to go in and get them, touch them," said one of the lifeguards.

"I work for the city because I believe in public services, but I don't think that should come at the cost of my co-workers and myself."

While some infectious disease experts have cautioned that reopening pools could pose public health challenges, others have said transmission does not appear to be a significant risk, as long as physical distancing rules are followed.

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