The YMCA is operating its pools in Calgary at 50 per cent capacity — not out of COVID caution, but because there's a provincewide shortage of lifeguards.
The city is also grappling with the shortage.
With pandemic shutdowns and temporary layoffs, lifeguards are hard to come by. Ahead of September programming, there's a push to get people recertified and ready so that some recreation centres can open.
Over the winter pandemic months, YMCA operations manager Nick Wiggins said a lower pool capacity was keeping up with demand. But now, it's leading to longer waits for those wanting to dive back into aquatics.
"There's a lot more people who want to come and swim," said Wiggins. "Until we bring extra staff into all of the pools, not just YMCA pools, but all the pools across Calgary and across Alberta, that will allow us to get more swimmers in."
Wiggins sits on the Lifesaving Society board of directors, and said this is a provincewide issue.
Several pools operated by the City of Calgary remain closed because most front-line staff were temporarily laid off or let go. Now, Calgary Recreation is recalling workers to fill 1,200 positions.
"We're very happy that many of our staff members who were laid off or terminated in response to COVID-19 restrictions have chosen to return," Jarret Hoebers, regional manager for Calgary Recreation, said in a statement. "But not all have done so, and many are required to complete specialized training and certifications each year to work in City of Calgary facilities."
While that staff complement is being rebuilt, some of the city's amenities and programs can't operate. The Shouldice and Foothills aquatic centres are closed, along with aquatic amenities at Southland and Village Square leisure centres.
The Y is running more certification programs than it normally would at this time of year to fill the gap.
"Most lifeguard certifications expire every two years," Wiggins said. "Lifeguarding is not something that you can start within a day or two. It's going to take a couple of months for you to get through the certification process."
The YMCA anticipates demand for swimming lessons to be high, too, because there's a cohort of kids who couldn't learn to swim during the pandemic.
"There's certainly demand," Wiggins said. "We just need to make sure that we have the qualified staff to enable to deliver those swimming lessons. Swimming is a life skill.… [teaching] that skill is incredibly important."