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'The Strangest Summer': Chicago Lifeguards Spent Summer Keeping People Off The Beaches During Pandemic

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Another beautiful day in the 80s is ahead of us – a perfect excuse to head to the beach before school starts.

But in Chicago, sunbathers are kept off the sand by lifeguards. CBS 2's Lauren Victory took us inside their strangest summer ever.

He's spent almost every day in the beating sun, summer after summer. Labor Day will close out 34 seasons for Eric Bushonville as a Chicago beach lifeguard.

He thought he'd witnessed it all on the water, seen it all on the sand, but he said this has definitely been "the strangest summer" on the lakefront.

While the Lakefront Trail is open, the beaches are closed, leaving only the birds allowed on the beaches for all of 2020.

"Quite different than your typical summer," Bushonville said.

It wasn't normal from the start. The Chicago Park District didn't fill 700 positions, and the lifeguards it did put on the clock began more than month late.

It was nearly July 4th when Mayor Lori Lightfoot reopened the lakefront path, but she kept beaches a no-go zone.

"If we allow people to go onto the sand, that could promote large gatherings," said lifeguard trainer and supervisor Sam Jorden, who has put 22 years into the squad.

Starting as a junior guard, now a trainer, Jorden took on a new role this year: social distance ambassador, responsible for enforcing mask requirements and social distancing along the lakefront, but most importantly:

"We just keep people off of the sand," he said.

Quite the opposite of past years, and much different than across the border, where some of Indiana's shore seems to be crowded daily.

"It makes me cringe a bit, because we all doing this hard work, we're all doing this sacrifice," Bushonville said.

Also cringeworthy – Chicagoans who sneak onto the beach before and after hours. CBS 2 spotted police shooing away visitors at North Avenue in the morning, but officers and guards can't be everywhere all the time.

"This summer we've had numerous occasions where we've had people going into places that aren't safe; off of piers, off of rocks," Jorden said.

So what happens after labor day?

Normally, that's when the city's beaches close, and lifeguards go off duty. In a final weird quirk of the COVID-19 lifeguarding season, their tour on the lakefront is being extended. Some will stay on as social distance ambassadors through the end of the month.

Both longtime lifeguards we interviewed work at indoor pools when it's not beach season. Until further notice, those indoor pools are closed.

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