While public pools and beaches remain mostly closed off to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic, swimming safety still needs to be top-of-mind for families with home pools, or pools at condominium or apartment complexes that have been re-opened to residents.

There seems to be more pool-related water injuries and drownings among children at this time in late Spring, compared to last year, according Fernando Mendoza, M.D., chief of pediatrics and medical director of pediatric emergency, Baptist Hospital.

“We’re starting to see a little bit more (nonfatal) submersion injuries or drownings in the ER, a little earlier than usual,” said Dr. Mendoza. “And it’s been very tragic. We’ve seen a couple of these already that are a little bit of an uptick, compared to last year.”

(On May 21, at noon, Baptist Health will feature a Zoom presentation on Summer Safety, a parenting program focused on water safety, drowning prevention and emergencies.)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released guidelines for Public Pools, Hot Tubs, and Water Playgrounds During COVID-19 as re-openings of water venues and community pools get underway in coming weeks.

Of the more than 3,500 annual accidental drownings (non-boating related) in the U.S., about one in five are children 14 and younger, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries,” the CDC states. Of course, these figures apply to normal times. The coronavirus pandemic has kids spending more time at home, and pool safety, including barriers, need to be in placed and double-checked, says Dr. Mendoza.

“Having pools at home, kids are going to wander and you really want to be very, very careful with pool safety,” says Dr. Mendoza. “That includes having alarms on those sliding doors, or French doors in the backyard, to make sure you know when a child goes out. Keeping that pool fence up — even though toddlers can get pretty creative — will help deter, not always prevent, but deter.”

Of the more than 3,500 annual accidental drownings (non-boating related) in the U.S., about one in five are children 14 and younger, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries,” the CDC states.

This year’s Water Safety Splash Day event, sponsored by West Kendall Baptist Hospital and Baptist Children’s Hospital, was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. During the event, the group Little Swimmers usually provides basic swim lessons, evaluations, and vital CPR demonstrations. The idea for Water Safety Splash Day came from Zulma Berrios, M.D., Chief Medical Officer of West Kendall Baptist Hospital, after a tragic loss in her family involving a young drowning victim.

In South Florida, near-drowning or drowning – so called submersion injuries – can happen year-round, but incidents increase in summer, according to Fernando Mendoza, M.D., Medical Director, Children’s Emergency Center at Baptist Children’s Hospital, and Associate Medical Director of Emergency Services for West Kendall Baptist Hospital.

“Both young children and teens are vulnerable to water accidents,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Even teens who are experienced swimmers are at risk because they underestimate the dangers associated with water activities. Jumping from a high point into water, rough play in the water or pounding surf can cause injuries and drowning among these youths.”

Dr. Mendoza recommends that parents supervise young children around water and install physical barriers, such as door locks and pool fences, to prevent access to swimming pools when an adult is not around. For older children and teens, he admits it’s more difficult to prevent accidents. But, he says, talking to them about the risks of dangerous behaviors can be helpful. Nonetheless, even older kids need supervision by adults.

“If there is no adult supervision, than the risk of injury greatly increases among all kids,” Dr. Mendoza said. “They become more daring and do riskier things than they would if adults were present. So they’re should always be adults present.”

At this time, there is no evidence that the COVID-19 can be spread to humans through the use of pools and hot tubs, says the CDC. (See related article.)

Home Pool Safety Rules

The following are home pool safety guidelines from Little Swimmers.

  • Install a barrier fence AT LEAST 4 feet high, 5 feet is recommended.
  • Install door alarms leading to the pool or lake or canal.
  • Install an underwater pool alarm.
  • Install an anti-entrapment safety drain cover.
  • Learn CPR.
  • Keep chemicals in a remote area away from children’s reach.
  • Invest in swimming lessons.
  • Keep surface clear of flotation devices/toys making it easy to see clearly to bottom.
  • Avoid pet doors on screens, fences and gates, small children can crawl through them.
  • Avoid running, pushing and horseplay around the pool.
  • Dry off well before entering the home to avoid injury from slipping or someone else hurting themselves due to a slip and fall.
  • DO NOT dive in shallow parts.
  • DO NOT use any glass containers in, near or around the pool.
  • Take extra caution when using a heated spa. Being in hot water for too long can cause nausea, dizziness, vomiting, overheating and burning of the skin. Hot water can also cause sleepiness/tiredness/fatigue, which in turn can lead to drowning.
  • At the end of the day, always seep the area to ensure the pool barriers are secured properly.
  • Remember, children are curious, if you are looking for a missing child, look in the water FIRST!

Always be Prepared by:

  • Keeping rescue equipment handy. i.e.: life ring, pole, flotation device.
  • Keeping a phone handy poolside with home address listed in case someone other than yourself needs to reference.
  • Keeping emergency phone numbers handy such as 911, poison control 800-222-1222 and local police. i.e.: Hammocks police Station 305-383-6800, Miami Dade Police Station: 305-279-6929.

Baptist Health is open to provide you care when and where you need it. 

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