Social distancing, wearing of facemasks to be enforced
By Terry Duffy
COVID-19 restrictions continue to ease and, with that, a number of popular community events are making their comeback.
The latest is from northern Niagara County where officials with the Olcott Lions Club announced the annual “Swim for Sight” – typically a late-winter favorite held in March on the shores of frigid Lake Ontario – would be a pre-Memorial Day weekend happening this year. Now in its 51st year, the annual swim (minus a 2020 disrupt) will be held this Sunday afternoon in the Lake Ontario waters off Krull County Park at Olcott Beach.
“We are thrilled … following the vaccines rollout to help us get back to our new normal of being able to do events,” Olcott Lion and Event Chairman Bill Clark said. “We hope to lead the way showing it can be done and be done safely.”
He said swim participants who usually encounter Lake Ontario temps in the low-30s can expect temperatures hovering in the low-40s this weekend.
“The water will be plenty cold with the average temperature approximately 10 degrees warmer than the average March water temperatures,” Clark said. “Polar Bears won’t feel much different.”
The popular “Swim for Sight,” a fundraiser to benefit the Lions’ numerous community programs, typically sees anywhere from 300 to 400 daring swim participants in the water – and a spectator crowd of 1,000-plus on the shore watching and celebrating. However, Clark noted the Olcott Lions’ focus for the 2021 event is centered on the safety of both swimmers and spectators.
“This year we have adjusted the swim to comply with any and all health regulations at the time of the swim to keep everyone (participants and spectators) safe,” he said. “Activities will start at 10 a.m., with swimmers entering the water in organized groups earlier than past swims in small groups, wearing masks. It will include practicing social distancing, predicated on CDC guidelines at the time of the swim.”
With COVID-19 still a concern, and the CDC state protocols on crowds and distancing ever-changing, Clark said the club has chosen to air on the side of caution. He emphasized the event will strictly adhere to CDC guidelines, as well as those by the state and county health departments when it comes social distancing.
“They will be separated,” Clark said of both the swimmers and crowds. “Our aim is to keep it small due to COVID.”
He added, “Our aim is to keep people distanced, in the registration and staging areas, and also when it comes to outside activities. For this year’s ‘COVID-times’ ‘Swim for Sight,’ we must reduce congestion, and all participants must remain in small, separated groups.”
The Lions also stressed the following:
•Everyone must wear a properly fitted mask when in the registration area and when entering and exiting the beach area. Participants will not be granted entry to the registration or swim areas unless they are wearing a mask. There will be no exceptions, even if someone is fully vaccinated.
•Swim participants and spectators must wear a mask in the street corner assembly area and on the stairway to the beach. Swimmers may remove their mask when in the water but must immediately place the mask back on after leaving the water and before proceeding back up the stairway.
“A big difference for this year’s swim (is) there will be no shotgun start,” Clark said. “Entry to the water will begin as early as 12 noon and continue until 2 p.m.”
So what happenings can spectators look forward to Sunday?
Clark said many of the annual favorites. Look for costume contests, the annual Niagara County fire companies’ tug of war contest, a street parade through Olcott, the popular Polar Bear Queen and King contests and, of course, the swim itself. Other highlights include tons of food and drink offerings, music, fun and more. The event is open to visitors of all ages; families are welcome to attend.
“With continued progress in vaccinations, we feel confident we can manage a successfully safe swim for the entire family,” Clark said. “We’ll also have a couple of special extra things for participants.
“We’re already making plans to make it the best yet!”
Clark advised those interested in attending to check the Olcott Lions official “Swim for Sight” Facebook page for complete information on registration, participation and fundraising; or visit https://olcottlions.org/index.html#form1-5.