MATANZAS, Cuba, July 22 (Xinhua) -- Felix Limas graduated with the highest honors from the Matanzas Regional Lifeguard Academy after successfully performing a rescue drill at Varadero Beach, Cuba's most developed resort.
Today he works not just to save lives from drowning, but to protect people from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Limas and dozens of other newly graduated lifeguards have been working at the beaches, ensuring visitors comply with the need for social distancing and proper hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus.
Cubans have been flocking to the seaside since the government eased three-month restrictions and allowed hotels to reopen in June. But new restrictions are in place, including staying a minimum of two meters apart on land and in the water.
The pandemic has changed how lifeguards monitor what's happening at the beaches, said the 29-year-old lifeguard. "This is a hard and complicated work. It is very important that people protect themselves from the virus, which can be transmitted by asymptomatic carriers," Limas told Xinhua.
In addition to ensuring everyone is complying with the new rules, "we will be providing beachgoers with sanitizer," he said.
Even before the summer vacation, students and professors from the academy joined the anti-COVID campaign, helping healthcare workers going door to door to identify possible patients. They also worked as volunteers when the academy's dorms were turned into an isolation center for treating suspected cases.
Maritza Betancourt, director general of the academy, agreed that the health emergency poses new challenges for lifeguards, who are not only warning people not to venture out too far, but also not to get too close.
"Lifeguards can help raise awareness," she said. "This is a high-risk job at the moment but our students and professors are committed to the safety of bathers."
Meanwhile, Jose Angel Vizoso, a senior professor at the academy, said lifeguards need to protect themselves more than ever to avoid catching the virus while on duty, performing first aid or saving lives.
"Despite the use of personal protective equipment, proximity or physical contact with beachgoers is required during emergencies. That's why we have to take extreme safety measures at work," Vizoso said.
Yeni Fiallo, one of the few female lifeguards at Varadero Beach, said "of course, we have to take risks ... staying three meters away from a person who is drowning is not a choice."
So far, Cuba has reported 2,449 confirmed cases and 87 deaths from the disease. Enditem