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Children's drowning could rise during pandemic, pediatrician group says

Posted June 17, 2020 7:59 p.m. EDT

Kids in a swimming pool

The American Academy of Pediatrics is warning parents and caregivers to stay vigilant around pools and beaches this summer, especially as they may be more distracted with work and other responsibilities during the pandemic.

“Drowning is the single leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4, and it’s one of the top causes of death for teens. As children are at home more due to social isolation recommendations, they may have more access to pools, bathtubs, and other sources of water – all of which pose a drowning risk,” said pediatrician Dr. Ben Hoffman, chairman of the AAP Council on Injury, Violence & Poison Prevention, in a press release.

“Families may also be visiting lakes, rivers or other open bodies of water as a way to get outdoors while still maintaining physical distance to reduce the spread of coronavirus. We have to make sure that we plan layers of protection to keep children and teens safe around water, wherever they are,” Dr. Hoffman said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10 people die each day from unintentional drowning. Of those, two are kids ages 14 or younger. Overall, drowning is the fifth leading cause of unintentional injury death in the United States.

Not only are parents distracted, but kids also may be rusty on whatever swimming skills they have. While many kids take swim classes in the spring to brush up on their swimming skills or get ready for summer swim teams, the pandemic put many swim lessons on hiatus. So, in many cases, the first time kids hit the pool, lake or ocean this summer, is the first time they've gone swimming in months.

Here are seven ways to keep kids safe this summer, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • All children and adults should learn to swim. If swim lessons are suspended in your area due to coronavirus, it is important to add other layers of protection until your child can access lessons.
  • Close, constant, attentive supervision around water is important. Assign an adult ‘water watcher,’ who should not be distracted by work, socializing, or chores.
  • Around the house, empty all buckets, bathtubs and wading pools immediately after use. If you have young children, keep the bathroom door closed, and use toilet locks to prevent access.
  • Pools should be surrounded by a four-sided fence, with a self-closing and self-latching gate. Research shows pool fencing can reduce drowning risk by 50%. Additional barriers can include door locks, window locks, pool covers and pool alarms.
  • Adults and older children should learn CPR.
  • Everyone, children and adults, should wear US Coast Guard-approved life jackets whenever they are in open water, or on watercraft.
  • Parents and teens should understand how using alcohol and drugs increases the risk of drowning while swimming or boating.

“We can’t drown-proof kids, and so planning layers of protection is the best way to protect all children around water,” Dr. Hoffman said in the release.