PULASKI COUNTY, Ark. – Memorial Day weekend is here, and local pools are getting ready to welcome back guests with a splash. But a national lifeguard shortage is making things more challenging.
After a year full of quarantines and closures, public pools are ready to get back into the swim of things.
For the Jacksonville Splash Zone, staff is looking forward to welcoming their 16th season on Saturday with full capacity following a cut-back 2020 season.
“Our capacity last year was 150,” aquatics manager Diane Novotny explained, “and this year, we’re back up to 353.”
But for many pools across the nation, a lack of lifeguard applications is making it hard to stay afloat. Novotny has noticed a decrease in applicants the past few years, noting that, “everybody’s looking for lifeguards.”
But she says this season has been especially tough as more and more pools reopen following COVID – and certified lifeguards head back to their hometown pools.
For the Splash Zone, the current guard team is ready to serve but prepared for extra overtime and call-ins.
“We have enough to get started, but if we have sickness or vacations or stuff, guess who’s lifeguarding?” Novotny said, referring to herself.
Kelly Lewis, the aquatics coordinator for Sherwood, is seeing the same situation at her facility.
“We have been short on lifeguards this year,” she said while preparing for the opening weekend.
While there’s enough guards on deck for things to go swimmingly, Lewis said they’d like to have a few more. One possible reason for the shortage is the all-too-common COVID fatigue, with staffing in general across the nation taking a dive.
“I think a lot of people are kind of skeptical about coming back to work,” Lewis explained.
Still, both pools are ready to safely welcome back guests with enough lifeguards to cover all areas. The hope is a few extra applications will float on in with the season.
“After the year of 2020, we just want everybody to be able to relax and just enjoy the summer this year,” Lewis said.