The beach season hadn’t even officially started, but Rockaway had its first drowning death this year.
On Friday, May 22, the day before lifeguards would normally start guarding beaches for the 2020 beach season, 24-year-old Fidel Ramirez of Sheepshead Bay lost his life in the ocean around Beach 89th Street. This loss came after Mayor Bill de Blasio had been sending the message that beaches were closed to swimming as it is not safe to open them during the coronavirus pandemic, since it would encourage non-essential travel on public transportation and crowding.
How the tragedy occurred, is unclear. According to some witness reports, Ramirez may have fallen off of the jetty, while other reports from officials say he was swimming when he got caught in a current. Emergency crews responded within minutes. Ramirez was among three people rescuers sought to help. The other two were able to make it out of the water, but rescue crews were unable to recover Ramirez’s body until several minutes later at Beach 93rd Street. CPR attempts were made as Ramirez was transported to St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, where he was later declared deceased.
Local Councilman Eric Ulrich said the first drowning should serve as a wakeup call for what may come if beaches continue to be unprotected.
“Another tragic drowning in Rockaway today—first one of the seasons but may not be the last…Wake up Mr. Mayor and Parks Dept. Get the lifeguards trained and on the beach ASAP. You can’t keep people off the sand or out of the water,” Councilman Ulrich said on Facebook.
On Monday, May 23, Ulrich was among several councilmembers of beach communities to issue a plan for how to open beaches safely.
Mayor de Blasio commented on the tragedy and continued to advise New Yorkers that the beaches remain closed to swimming.
“We just lost a young man who got caught in a dangerous current in the Rockaways. Our hearts break for his family and friends,” Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted after the incident. “I need every New Yorker to heed the warning: there’s NO swimming on our beaches during this crisis. It is NOT safe. We don’t want to fence off the beaches, but we will if we have to. We’ll have extra Parks and NYPD walking the beaches this weekend to keep New Yorkers safe.”
Throughout the weekend, more Parks and NYPD employees were observed spreading the message to beachgoers. The rest of the holiday weekend went on without incident. Coupled with poor weather on Saturday, the city’s beaches saw a much lower attendance than normal. According to the Parks Department, there were 46,000 visitors to the city’s beaches over the weekend, which was much lower than usual. As part of its enforcement, the Parks Department only issued six summonses, including three for no swimming and others for unauthorized vending/ alcohol consumption.
Lifeguards are currently being trained and tested in preparation of being able to guard the beaches once Mayor de Blasio announces it if safe to do so.
By Katie McFadden
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