Summer is three weeks away from officially starting and with coronavirus easing up, jumping back into the pool will be a top priority for many in the coming months.
For millions of Americans, the reopening of outdoor pools will be a welcome relief as the weather continues to heat up. Nothing says summer like a day spent splashing in the pool.
While the risk of catching coronavirus in a swimming pool is likely a concern for some people, it pales compared to another pool danger. A danger that might kill many children this summer and should have parents paying very close attention.
New numbers have shown a dangerous start to 2021 for drowning incidents in several states, including Arizona and Florida.
A Florida Hospital has recently issued an alert, warning about a “dangerous spike in child pool-related drownings among vacationers.”
From March to April 2021, the Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children has reported a 600% rise in submersions in children compared to the same time in 2020. Some were critical and some were even fatal. Most of the submersions happened in children under the age of 3.
According to the World Health Organization’s global report on drowning, age is one of the major risk factors. They often associate this relationship with a lapse in supervision. Globally, the highest drowning rates are among children 1–4 years, followed by children 5–9 years.
Arizona through March has had 20 drowning incidents reported and the state is now among the top states for fatal child drownings in 2021.
A report from the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona has found that the state experienced just 12 incidents at the same time last year. 137 drowning incidents occurred in Arizona in 2020, with 75 of the drownings involving a pediatric. Six were over the age of five and five were teenagers.
“We are significantly higher this year and we don’t know why, but we do know that there are still many people who are home,” said Lori Schmidt, president of the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona, who spoke to KTAR News 92.3 FM.
“COVID restrictions are lifting, that means more families are coming together – having pool parties because it’s also very hot,” Schmidt said. “Please make sure that someone is always assigned to be the water watcher.”
“Having an unfenced pool is like having an uncaged lion in your backyard,” explained Morgan Miller, the wife of Olympian Bode Miller. Morgan and Bode had been parents to Emmy, who died tragically at 19 months old in a friend’s pool.
“To a child, that big furry animal could look like something fun to play with. It’s appealing and tempting. But we as adults know that a lion is deadly and can kill your child,” Miller added.
Drowning can happen extremely fast. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that seven hundred children die every year and over 6,000 suffer non-fatal injuries from incidents in pools, oceans, lakes, streams, bathtubs, and even buckets of water. Over half of young children ages 1 to 4 will drown in home swimming pools.
Dr. Guohua Li, a professor of epidemiology and anesthesiology and the founding director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York, has said, “The highest risk group for drowning is 2-year-olds. Their risk is about three times as high as the rest of the population.”
Each year there are about 360 drowning deaths among 2-year-olds, Li exclaimed. “That’s almost one death per day.”
According to Dr. Li, the most important piece of advice is to get your children swimming lessons, even when they are young. “Young children can learn to float even before they learn to walk. I think a good time to begin swimming lessons is when children are between 2 and 7,” he said.
“In the pediatric population as a whole, swimming skills are acquired only by half of children by the time they graduate from high school,” Li continued. “The numbers are worse for minority children. For white children, about 65% learn how to swim, as compared to Black and Hispanic children, only 40% of whom can swim by the time they graduate from high school.”
It is important for the top of drowning to become a big part of the ongoing parenting conversation. Especially as pools re-open and Americans rush back to swimming pools after spending a year in lockdowns and confinement.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have several tips for keeping kids safe from drowning that include:
1. Teach children how to swim, especially basic swimming skills such as floating and moving through the water. There are many free or reduced-cost options available from your local YMCA, USA Swimming chapter or Parks and Recreation Department.
2. Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), as it could be the difference between life and death. CPR classes are available through many hospitals, community centers, or by contacting the American Red Cross.
3. Fence off swimming pools to keep children away from any potential dangers when they cannot be supervised. Proper fences, barriers, alarms and covers can become lifesaving devices. A fence of at least four feet in height should surround the pool or spa on all sides and should not be climbable for children.
4. Always monitor your children because drowning can happen quickly and quietly. Avoid distractions. Leaving even for a moment to buy ice cream could be dangerous. Also always keep younger kids within an arm’s length while near a pool.
5. Put a life jacket on young children, even if they know how to swim.