Drowning Rates on the Rise During the Pandemic
The pandemic ushered in the new decade, creating an environment of fear and uncertainty and set off a dire economic landscape. Schools and businesses closed, and kids and many employees found themselves learning and working remotely and, for the most part, confined to their homes. Unfortunately, the pandemic and economic crises aren’t the only bad news this year. Drownings also increased this year.
Unintentional drowning is a major cause of death among children one to four years old, surpassed only by birth defects. For children under five years of age, 87 percent drowning fatalities take place in home pools or hot tubs.
As early as May 2020, Florida and Texas—the top two states for child drownings in pools and spas—were already reporting higher numbers than last year. Drowning deaths also tripled in Arizona in 2020.
The isolation, disruptions to regular routines and tension parents are dealing with, coupled with the added burdens and anxieties of a global pandemic, understandably cause distractions. Add to that bored kids, the closures of public and community pools and no access to swim lessons and water safety programming, and it’s a recipe for chaos.
Regardless of how we try to convince ourselves that we can multitask, the reality is that we can’t. Parents can’t supervise when they’re in a Zoom meeting for work or rushing to finish a report on a deadline. They can’t provide undivided attention when they’re on their phones. And that can have catastrophic consequences when kids have access to water.
Because many community pools are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, families rely more on backyard pools. Those without backyard pools are heading to other water bodies, such as rivers and lakes, which have also reported higher drowning incidents.
Many people mistakenly think they would be able to hear if something was wrong with their child, but drowning is, in fact, often silent and very quick. Whether it’s a trip to the beach or a dip in the backyard pool, now more than ever, you can ensure that swimming is as safe as it is fun by following a few essential safety tips starting with keeping your eyes on your kids at all times.
Give kids your undivided attention.
Actively supervise children in and around water, without distraction and implement layers of protection to protect your family.
Use the Water Watcher strategy.
Create a schedule when multiple adults are present, and children are swimming that designates an adult as the water watcher. That person is on duty for a certain amount of time (such as 15-minute periods) to prevent lapses in supervision and give parents a chance to read, make phone calls or take a bathroom break.
Create barriers between your child(ren) and the water.
Whether you’re swimming in a backyard or at a community pool, make sure that you prevent children from gaining unexpected access to water. At the very least, following these steps:
All windows and doors that lead to water should be closed, locked and alarmed (if possible) at all times
Install self-closing and self-latching gates, that are at least four-feet high and non-climbable
Inflatable/kiddie pools should be emptied after each use and placed upside down or hung up out of a child’s reach
Wear life jackets when in and around open water.
Wear correctly fitted Coast Guard-approved life jackets. Dollar store floaties are not Coast Guard-approved. They often do more harm than good by giving parents a false sense of security that can lead to lapses in attention.
If a drowning event occurs, bystander CPR increases the likelihood that a child will survive and reduces the possibility of long-term effects. Before heading to a pool or local lake or beach, identify which adults know CPR and review steps.
Teach Your Child to Swim.
One of the best ways to keep a child safer in and around the water is to ensure they are water confidant. The CDC reports that learning to swim can reduce the risk of drowning by 88%.
Learning to swim should be a top priority in order to help reduce the risk of drowning. The AAP recommends enrolling in swim lesson as early as a year old.
Together, we can end drowning! Take our Water Safety Challenge to measure your family’s water safety competence and to help us provide water safety outreach to schools and community groups to keep kids safe.