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Drowning prevention in the COVID-19 pandemic

July 20, 2020

With temperatures rising and public swimming pools closed or limiting capacity in the COVID-19 pandemic, families are looking for ways to beat the heat.

“Whether we’re cooling off in a wading pool in our own backyard or heading to local lakes or rivers, it’s essential that we know how to keep our children and teens safe,” said Dr. Angela Zallen, co-chair of Safe Kids West Oregon, a nonprofit child safety advocacy organization. She also is a pediatric hospitalist at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend.

Nationwide, 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, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

“In the pandemic, children are spending more time at home around pools, bathtubs and other drowning risks, and their caregivers may be trying to juggle caretaking with work or other responsibilities,” Dr. Zallen said. “Also, fewer opportunities to swim in pools this summer may mean more time swimming in open bodies of water with hazards like cold temperatures, dangerous currents, sudden drop-offs, and rocks, stumps or other underwater debris.” 

To help keep everyone safe around water, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers the following recommendations:

  • All children and adults should learn to swim. If swim lessons in your area have been suspended because of COVID-19, it’s important to focus on 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.
  • When infants or toddlers are in or around the water, a supervising adult with swimming skills should be within an arm’s length, providing constant “touch supervision.”
  • Around the house, adults should empty all buckets, bathtubs and wading pools immediately after use. If you have young children, keep the bathroom door closed and do not leave them alone in the bathroom. Toilet locks can prevent drowning of toddlers.
  • 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 half. 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 U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets whenever they’re 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. 

More information is available at the American Academy of Pediatrics website.

About PeaceHealth: PeaceHealth, based in Vancouver, Wash., is a not-for-profit Catholic health system offering care to communities in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. PeaceHealth has approximately 16,000 caregivers, a group practice with more than 900 providers and 10 medical centers serving both urban and rural communities throughout the Northwest. In 1890, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace founded what has become PeaceHealth. The Sisters shared expertise and transferred wisdom from one medical center to another, always finding the best way to serve the unmet need for healthcare in their communities. Today, PeaceHealth is the legacy of the founding Sisters and continues with a spirit of respect, stewardship, collaboration and social justice in fulfilling its Mission.