Days after unexpected closures, shortened hours and long lines created a rocky opening day for the city’s public pool system, City Hall announced on Thursday that the city had certified more than 200 lifeguards over the last two weeks, bringing the total to 720.
The number, however, is around half of the city’s goal for the total number of lifeguards.
“We are in active negotiations with the lifeguard union to overcome outdated agreements that are preventing us from getting lifeguards into chairs regardless of the pay rate we offer,” Kate Smart, a spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement. “Given these hurdles, pay rate increases alone will not substantially contribute to solving our current shortage.”
The scarcity of lifeguards this summer has afflicted cities and towns nationwide. Boston last week announced that some public pools would not open at all for the summer, while Chicago is planning to operate less than half of its 77 pools after pushing back the opening date to July 5th. Experts said the shortage is driven by a stronger job market for young people and training disruptions brought on by the pandemic.
As of two weeks ago, the city had around 500 lifeguards for pools and beaches, according to officials. The additional lifeguards come ahead of what is expected to be a hot July 4th weekend, when many New Yorkers seek relief in the city’s pools.
New York City’s Parks Department said earlier this week that it planned to open 51 outdoor public pools on Tuesday, but the reality of the lifeguard shortage made it impossible for some pools to open at full capacity, and in some cases, not at all.
On Thursday, in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Gowanus, a sign in front of the Douglass and Degraw pool said it was closed for the day. According to parks workers, the facility — which includes both a swimming and wading pool for younger children — also closed Tuesday and was open for only a half day on Wednesday.
The city’s outdoor public pools are typically open everyday during the summer season from 11 a.m. through 7 p.m., with an hour break in the afternoon for cleaning.
On Wednesday, a person tweeted photos of a half-open pool in Washington Heights that was featured in the movie The Heights.
Somar Alston, a Harlem resident, told Gothamist that a mini pool on East 135th street and Fifth Avenue appeared to be closed for three days in a row. Despite that, she said kids were lined up anyway in hopes that the pool would open.
Aside from pool time, some New Yorkers have lost the opportunity to learn a life-saving skill. The city’s “Learn to Swim” program was canceled for the third straight year in the row. Prior to the pandemic, the program served 20,506 children and 670 adults, according to the New York Times, which also reported that private programs are experiencing long waitlists.
On Monday, Adams described the city’s public pools as the “French Riviera” for some communities with residents who stay home during the summer.
Although he emphasized that the lifeguard shortage was a national problem, he said that the city was looking at some “creative solutions.”
“We are still leaving no stone unturned,” he said.
He added that city officials were considering launching a public awareness campaign at beaches to warn people about the dangers of drowning. The statement came less than two weeks after two young people drowned and three others were rescued while swimming a popular stretch of Rockaway Beach.
Adams conceded that some city pools could be closed as a result of the lack of lifeguards. “We want to open as many as possible, but it is a challenge,” he said.
In her own effort to blunt the effects of the national lifeguard shortage, Gov. Kathy Hochul recently gave a raise to lifeguards working at state-operated swimming facilities as part of a greater push to encourage more applicants.