HARVEY CEDARS, N.J. (AP) — More than two dozen lifeguards from two New Jersey beach towns have tested positive for the coronavirus after having been together socially, authorities said.
Officials said the lifeguards are from Harvey Cedars and Surf City, neighboring boroughs on Long Beach Island.
Mayor Jonathan Oldham of Harvey Cedars said island health officials alerted the borough to the cluster Thursday and the lifeguards were being quarantined until they are cleared by doctors. Long Beach Island's health director told WHYY that the guards were apparently together at two “social gatherings” earlier this month.
Harvey Cedars said Saturday that 17 lifeguards, all of whom had “attended a party in Surf City," had tested positive for COVID-19. The island's health director earlier said a dozen Surf City lifeguards had tested positive.
Harvey Cedars said on its website that it has 73 lifeguards and therefore “our beaches will remain fully staffed with all safety protocols in place.’’ Surf City said its beaches “will remain protected from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily” but “adjustments may be made from day to day to ensure the safety of all patrons and guards."
New Jersey officials earlier announced more than 500 new positive COVID-19 cases and an additional 11 deaths confirmed as associated with the virus, bringing the total number of deaths associated with the virus in the state to 13,867.
The South Jersey Lifeguard Championships has been a fixture of the summer season since 1949, but the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the cancellation of that prestigious event and most, if not all, of the other South Jersey beach patrol races.
“It’s really a tough one for me because I want to race,” said Longport Beach Patrol rower Sean Duffey, 37, of the cancellations. “Mike (McGrath) and I still train like we’re racing, because it’s part of the job to train. I love to race. I look forward to every Friday (the day in which many of the big events are usually held), but I understand. The job is public safety.”
The South Jersey Lifeguard Chiefs Association recently had a virtual meeting and decided it was best to cancel the races. The 15-patrol association oversees lifeguarding from Brigantine to Cape May Point.
The Longport patrol would have been going for its fifth straight South Jersey Championships team title. The doubles crew of McGrath and Duffey has helped to lead the way each of the last four years.
The biggest safety problem is the fans, who number in the thousands at the biggest events and are bunched together behind a rope at the shoreline. It’s nearly always early evening at the races, and people have a good time cheering on the athletes. But they are often very close together.
“All the (beach patrol) chiefs got together on Zoom, and we decided it was wisest to cancel everything for the year, just to be cautious,” said Sandy Bosacco, the president of the association. “The safety of the competitors and spectators is what’s important. It was a tough decision. The South Jersey Championships (which began in 1924) might be the oldest lifeguard event in the country. But there are hundreds and sometimes thousands of people who come to lifeguard races.”
Also gone are big August events such as the Margate World War II Memorial Lifeguard Races, the Bill Howarth Women’s Lifeguard Invitational and the John T. Goudy Memorial Rescue Races.
In late June, the chiefs canceled the July events and decided to wait and see on the rest of the season. But things regarding the virus haven’t gotten any better.
“We were hoping that the COVID-19 would clear up, but it doesn’t seem to be happening,” Bosacco said.
For the South Jersey Championships, considered the top beach patrol event of the summer, this would have been its 81st edition. The Margate Memorials had taken place each year since it began in 1946. The Howarth Invitational would have been in its 26th straight year.
Ventnor Beach Patrol Lt. Meghan Holland has won several South Jersey women’s races over the years in the singles and doubles row and the surf dash.
“Everyone loves to compete, but we had to cancel because we have to put the health of our guards as the priority,” said Holland, 37. “The racing is the highlight of the season, but this year is so different. The most important thing is to keep the bathers and the beachgoers safe. Our guards are in great shape. They run, row and swim every day, and we practice rescues several times a week.”
A few smaller races have been held. McGrath and Duffey won a Brennan McCann Masters Row race (a non-South Jersey Association event) on July 11 at Seaview Harbor beach in Egg Harbor Township.
Bosacco said individual towns may still decide to have their races.
Avalon Beach Patrol Capt. Murray Wolf hasn’t given up hope of his patrol’s athletes racing somewhere this summer. Wolf knows it’s not likely that the David J. Kerr Jr. Memorial Lifeguard Races, Avalon’s signature event in early August, will be held. But he still has hope.
Wolf began his career as an Avalon guard at the age of 16 in 1955.
“It’s very strange to not have the events this year,” Wolf said. “It’s (the Kerr Memorials) up to the city administrators, and the public safety people and the mayor (Martin Pagliughi). Anything we can do, we’ll do, and anything we can’t do, we can’t do.”
GALLERY: Look back at South Jersey lifeguard races
Atlantic City and Cape May are poised for an upcoming 12-month stretch with more coastal flooding events than the previous year, all a continuing part of a trend with more days of closed roadways, cars that have to be moved and water inundation.
Between May 2020 to April 2021, Atlantic City is expected to have anywhere between eight and 14 high-tide flooding days, while Cape May is expected to have between six and 11. During the last coastal flooding year, Atlantic City had nine flood days, while Cape May saw 7, according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Across the United States, the median average of coastal flooding was four days in the 2019 flooding year, just shy of the record set during the 2018 flooding year.
The administration released its annual State of U.S. High Tide Flooding, which include a recap of the 2019 flooding year (May 2019-2020), as well as an outlook for the May 2020 to April 2021 period.
The report, which was released earlier this month, specifically documents the change in nuisance flooding, which is also known as minor flood stage, typically when tides are 1.75 to 2 feet above the daily average high tide.
“America’s coastal communities and their economies are suffering from the effects of high tide flooding, and it’s only going to increase in the future,” said Nicole LeBoeuf, acting director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service.
NOAA forecasts that the peak season for coastal flooding will be during the fall. While nor’easters typically bring the most significant flooding during the winter, the minor, nuisance flooding days the report focuses on happen while the water temperatures are warmest.
“During the fall, you do have a change of seasons occurring, you tend to get more northerly winds. ... There’s an important seasonal cycle occurring as well,” said William Sweet, oceanographer, NOAA’s National Ocean Service and lead author of the report. “Sea levels are higher during the fall time, than the winter times. That’s on the order of a half foot. ... When the winds begin to really blow in September and October, the sea level heights are higher.”
The northeast Atlantic Ocean, which includes New Jersey, is already a hot spot for flooding. Compared with the rest of the country, the region has the highest likelihood of seeing the most number of coastal flooding events, between six and 11 days throughout the May to April reporting period.
“There’s a very wide, shallow continental shelf in the Atlantic Ocean. The West Coast has a steep continental shelf. ... The East Coast has a high rate of sea level rise,” Sweet said.
NOAA scientists says a neutral El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which is based off of the waters around the equator in the Pacific Ocean, played a role in this forecast. However, this role doesn’t sway the forecast one way or another.
Rather, NOAA scientists say, climate change is a factor. About a third of sea level rise is due to the thermal expansion of the ocean. The warmer the waters, the more space the ocean occupies, creeping up the shoreline.
“Long term, we know that the sea level rise has been happening. We’ve seen that from NOAA over the years,” said Lou Belasco, floodplain manager for the city of Cape May. “From a flooding standpoint, we look to bolster our natural systems. We’ve looked to bolster the shoreline along the harbor front. If we can increase those wetlands and soak up some of the sea level rise, we can offset some of the losses,” he said, adding, “It’s a two-pronged approach. ... We also recognize that there are hardscape solutions that need to be done. There are areas that we look to raise the roadway, like on Yacht Avenue. We’ve had talks with the Army Corps of Engineers for Wilmington and Beach to raise the road there.”
The 2019 flooding year, from May 2019 to April 2020, saw water temperatures nearly 1.5 degrees above the 20th Century average between 60 degrees north and 60 degrees south latitude, continuing a positive streak seen each year since the late 1970s.
“The national takeaway is ... the underlying trend is accelerating,” Sweet said.
After a seasonable June, Atlantic City’s water temperatures have been running above average for much of July, with a 75 degree reading July 16, five degrees above the 70-degree average.
The forecast flooding events are both below the projections expected for 2030, where 20 to 35 days of high tide flooding is expected in Atlantic City and 15 to 30 days of flooding are expected in Cape May.
“It’s (minor flooding not from a storm) not something I remember as a kid. It happened hardly ever. Usually, flooding was associated with some kind of weather system,” Belasco said.
According to a Rutgers University report released in 2019, sea levels rose an average of 1.5 feet along the New Jersey coast from 1911 to 2019, compared with the global average of 0.6 feet.
Almost 20 years ago, the Elliott family gathered with friends and family in the backyard of their Egg Harbor Township home three months after their son, John, was killed in a head-on collision with a drunken driver.
John was 22 and had just graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy.
That backyard meeting on Oct. 24 of that year marked the beginning of the John R. Elliott Hero Campaign. Its message was and is a simple one: Be a Hero. Be a designated driver.
“We wanted there to be a legacy for John that related to what happened to him and trying to prevent it from happening to other families,” his father, Bill Elliott, said this week. “We immediately knew we wanted to do something to remember John in a positive way because people get forgotten as things recede into the past.”
Bill, his wife, Muriel, and daughter, Jennifer Elliott Adamchak, are the driving force behind the Hero Campaign.
During the past 20 years, the organization has joined with everyone from neighborhood bars to law enforcement to schools to the Philadelphia Phillies and New England Patriots to raise awareness about drunken driving.
More than 100,000 people have taken the campaign’s pledge not to drink and drive.
In 2001, New Jersey enacted a law named for John that requires police to impound the cars of anyone charged with DUI for 12 hours. About 30,000 cars annually are towed under John’s Law.
The campaign holds several yearly events, including a golf tournament where Muriel’s home-made chocolate chip cookies are a big hit.
“We realized the police could not arrest every (drunken driver),” Muriel said. “If you were going out for the night, we wanted people to think ‘Who’s my hero?’ Who’s going to drive us home?’”
The details of John’s death seemed to shake all of South Jersey.
He was driving to Egg Harbor Township from the Naval Academy’s campus in Annapolis late on Friday, July 21, 2000. Muriel’s birthday party was the following night. It was late at night, but John wanted to get home, so he could enjoy the beach before the party.
John picked up his girlfriend, Kristen Hohenwarter, in Baltimore and crossed over the Delaware Memorial Bridge at about 1:15 a.m. on Saturday July 22, 2000.
Earlier that Friday night, state police had arrested Michael Pangle of Woodstown with a blood-alcohol content of 0.21, more than twice the state’s legal limit.
Pangle was released into the custody of a friend, who drove him back to his Chevy Blazer, which was parked where Pangle was arrested.
Thirty minutes later, Pangle, driving his Blazer again, swerved into the opposite lane and crashed head-on into John’s car. Pangle and John were killed.
Hohenwarter suffered serious injuries but recovered and is now a teacher in Maryland.
A gray granite cross built by volunteers from the New Jersey Bricklayers Council and Ironworkers Local 399 marks the crash site on Route 40 in Upper Pittsgrove Township. That stretch of road is now known as the John Elliott Memorial Highway.
The Elliotts visited the cross Wednesday just as they do each year on July 22.
What would John have thought about the campaign and what his family has accomplished in the past 20 years?
“He wouldn’t have wanted all the fuss,” Jennifer said with a laugh. “He was very humble. But he would obviously be on board with the message for saving lives and really proud of my parents for all the work they’ve done.”
The Elliotts smile quick when they talk about John these days. Jennifer’s two daughters – Nora, 7 and Anna, 10, — know all about Uncle John.
Nora says the family tells her she’s like Uncle John because she can make people laugh.
Anna touts John’s love of music. Right before he died, John made a mix tape of country singer Faith Hill for his mother.
The Elliotts remember how John’s shoulders shook up and down when he laughed. His friends called him “Jumbo,” and John and his fellow midshipmen watched countless movies on John’s computer screen nicknamed “the Jumbotron.”
What the campaign has done best is raise awareness about the drunken driving issue. It notes that DUI incidents have decreased by 20% in New Jersey the past decade.
Through HERO billboards, the organization pays tribute to drunken driving victims or honors college students who serve as designated drivers for friends and family.
Countless people have put HERO decals on the back of their cars and now there are even HERO masks to help protect against the new coronavirus.
“John is very much with us through the Hero Campaign,” Bill said. “What we are is a marketing campaign to remind people to do the right thing. A designated driver is a hero. A designated driver would have saved our son’s life and can save countless lives.”