Polar Bear Dip participants make a mad dash Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020, into the cold water at Auke Bay Recreation Area. This year’s dip is cancelled due to pandemic concerns. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

Polar Bear Dip participants make a mad dash Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020, into the cold water at Auke Bay Recreation Area. This year’s dip is cancelled due to pandemic concerns. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

No polar bears in Juneau: Dip canceled for pandemic

The 30-year-tradition is taking a pause for safety.

A decades-old tradition of throwing oneself in the frigid waters near Juneau to recognize the New Year will take a pause while the world struggles through a pandemic that contraindicates gathering en masse.

“The group Dip has been called off only once, on the event’s 30th anniversary, being replaced instead by a DIY Dip for households and bubbles to dip at safe times and locations of their own,” said the event’s official website. “This, of course, was in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Reasons for canceling the Polar Bear Dip include a high tide that will result in very limited beach space, making distancing impossible.

“It will not be possible to social-distance (crowd would have to be a quarter mile wide), too many people would try to skip wearing a mask, there’s a ton of yelling and gasping, the trails leading to the beach are not very wide, and we can’t needlessly expose our usual hero paramedic team to that kind of risk (you know they’d come if we asked, so let’s not put them in that position),” said the website. “Instead, do the dip on your own, not at the usual time and place (because we know some will be selfish and show up anyway), and download a DIY Certificate of Awesomeness to show the world you’re cool enough to dip and awesome enough to care about other people’s health.”

[2020 dip goes down swimmingly]

Capital City Fire/Rescue personnel, who attend the event every year to render assistance, will not be there this year, said Assistant Chief Ed Quinto in a phone interview.

“EMS will not be there, since they called off the Polar Plunge. What we’re saying is stay home,” Quinto said. “Stay home and do the ice bucket challenge.”

Cold water can affect you in minutes, Quinto said. Shock from the cold water can occur as quickly as within two minutes, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The water temperature is several degrees above freezing, depending on location around Juneau.

“It’s best to stay home,” Quinto said. “We won’t have any extra personnel on duty.”

Emergency calls resulting from jumping in the water will be treated like a normal medical call, Quinto said.

“Giving beloved group events a miss like this was an important way to honor and protect immunocompromised people like Barbara (Tomlinson Greening); the healthcare workers who kept her alive for 40 years (and us alive during the pandemic); and the paramedics who attend the event each year, just in case, to make sure we’re all safe,” said the event’s official website. “This spirit of community and living and renewal is what the Dip is all about.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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