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.
In another development, AP reported last week that New Jersey beaches exceeded EPA levels for fecal bacteria more than 70 times in 2019, according to a study recently.
The study by Environment New Jersey Research and Policy Center found that two beaches, Beachwood Beach West in Beachwood and the 25th Street Bay Front Beach in Barnegat Light, each had nine exceedances and had bacteria levels above the EPA safety threshold on more than 40% of the days tested.
In a statement, Beachwood Mayor Ron Roma said the town is “committed to finding and fixing the problems that cause our beach closings,” and plans to use trained dogs to sniff out underground sewer leaks.
Seventeen other New Jersey beaches were found to have been potentially unsafe for swimming at least twice.
Beaches were considered potentially unsafe if fecal bacteria levels exceeded the EPA’s standard associated with an estimated illness rate of 32 out of every 1,000 swimmers, according to the study.
Nationally, the study found that 386 coastal and Great Lakes beaches — or nearly one of eight surveyed — had potentially unsafe bacteria levels on at least 25% of the days tested.
Experts say the water quality at the New Jersey shore has improved from the 1980s but that it still is affected by polluted runoff from roads and parking lots, overflowing sewer systems and farms.