With many community swimming pools and splash pads closed in 2020 over concerns associated with COVID-19, many families are looking for alternatives to cool off on hot summer days. But swimming in the backyard pool or nearby open water can present a number of potential hazards, especially if there is no lifeguard on duty. Before you dive in, take a moment to refresh yourselves on the basics of swim safety.
Implement Pool Safety Measures
Although adding a pool to the backyard is likely a great investment this year, swimming at home can increase the likelihood of becoming sidetracked. Even a brief moment of distraction can lead to tragedy.
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers these tips to prevent accidents and injuries:
- Install a 4-foot, 4-sided, isolation fence with a self-closing, self-latching gate around any pool to separate the pool from the house and the rest of the yard.
- Keep a telephone and rescue equipment approved by the US Coast Guard (e.g., life buoys, life jackets, and a reach tool, such as a shepherd’s crook) by the pool.
- When visiting a home or business with a pool or hot tub, ensure that supervision will be consistent and that basic barriers are in place around the premises, such as sliding door locks and pool fences with closed gates that are in good working order.
- Learn CPR.
- During a pool party, take turns with other parents to be the “designated watcher” and fully focus on the kids playing in or around a pool.
Know the Dangers of Open Water
Many families may consider swimming in lakes, rivers, creeks and other areas they don’t typically frequent, but these areas can present a number of hidden risks.
According to safekids.org, the following should be considered in open waters:
- Limited Visibility – Water in lakes and ponds can be murky, hiding rocks, logs and other uneven surfaces. Limited visibility can also make it difficult to see if a child falls in. Always enter the water slowly.
- Depth, Distance and Drop-offs – Open water rarely has depth markings, making it difficult to know if kids are getting into water that is over their heads. It’s also more challenging to determine where the shoreline may be. When looking for safe place to swim, choose a designated swimming area and check for signs warning about potential hazards.
- Currents and Tides – Currents in rivers, creeks and streams can be fast-moving and unpredictable. In oceans or lakes, waves and rip currents can be dangerous. Choose supervised beach areas if they are available.
- Water Temperature – Open water is usually colder than pool water, which can affect a child’s swimming ability. Extremely cold water can result in shock, and lead to panic or even drowning. Dress for the water temperature, rather than the air temperature.
- Weather and Seasonal Differences – Weather can also result in safety hazards. Heavy rains and flooding can create strong currents and rapidly change the depth and clarity of water. Be aware of man-made storm channels and reservoirs that can be empty one minute and full of water the next.
Keep a Close Watch
“Swimming and other water-related activities are excellent ways to keep kids physically active, however, they are not risk-free,” Sharon Rink, MD, a Pediatrician with ThedaCare Physicians-Darboy. “Drownings are a leading cause of injury death for young children ages 1 to 14. In fact, the CDC says drowning kills more children between the ages of 1 and 4 than anything else except birth defects.”
Rink also warns that drowning tends to be a silent accident. Most people assume they will hear a child fall into the pool, or be alerted to a potential drowning when the child starts thrashing about. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Typically a child will wander off into the pool area and accidentally fall before the parent or caretaker can notice they’re missing.
For this reason, parents should always give their children full attention around pools, lakes and ponds, eliminating distractions like cell phones, drinking alcohol and social conversations. Although providing children with swim lessons and encouraging the use of life jackets and flotation devices can provide them with more confidence to navigate bodies of water, parents should never rely on swimming ability alone to protect children.
“For children ages one to four, inadequate adult supervision is the greatest risk factor for drowning,” she said. “That’s followed by overestimating the child’s ability to swim, then the parents or caretakers using drugs or alcohol while watching the child, and lastly not having adequate flotation devices for the child’s size.”
Prepare for an Emergency
When it comes to swim safety, the importance of CPR cannot be overstated.
“I feel every parent should know how to do CPR to protect their children from so many situations,” said Rink. “In a drowning situation, starting CPR immediately is vital.”
She cautioned, however, that removing the drowning victim from the pool or body of water may not always be the best course of action.
“If someone dove into the shallow end of a pool or lake, they may have a neck injury, so removing them could do more harm,” she explained. “In those situations, it’s important to support the victim in the water until paramedics arrive. Whenever there’s a drowning incident, someone should call 911 immediately to get professional medical assistance on the scene.”
“Communities across the country are making decisions based on the current data we have about COVID-19,” said Rink. “According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads through water in pools, hot tubs, spas or water play areas.”
With changes to how we take part in swimming activities in 2020, caution is key.
“Vigilance around any body of water is extremely important for people of all ages,” she said. “Adult Supervision of babies, toddlers, and young children around any water – bathtubs, pools, lakes or rivers – is paramount. We must monitor them at all times and anticipate any dangers so we can focus on having fun and making memories with our children.”