Experts say crowded pools, lifeguard shortage may lead to more accidental drownings this summer.
According to a recent national survey, 70% of Americans plan to swim in a pool this summer, up from 52% last year. But as millions of Americans go swimming for the first time in almost two years, public pools are facing an unprecedented national lifeguard shortage. Experts say this may be a recipe for disaster for unprepared families not paying enough attention to their surroundings.
“This summer, we’re going to see a surge in accidental drownings,” said three-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Rowdy Gaines. “As excited as we are about getting back in the water, it’s important that we stay focused on safe pool behaviors. Parents have to keep a close eye on their children 100% of the time, even when lifeguards are nearby.”
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death in children aged 1-14 in the United States, especially for children under five.
In response to this growing threat, Gaines is working with the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance (PHTA) to educate swimmers about safety for summer pool visits, including the need for children to learn to swim and information pool operators can use to encourage COVID safety at their facilities.
Part of this effort includes the PHTA’s Step Into Swim Campaign, which provides programs such as the American Red Cross, YMCAs, Jewish Community Centers and school districts with grant funding to offer swim lessons. Learning to swim can reduce the risk of drowning by 88% for 1- to 4-year-olds who take formal swim lessons.
The Healthy Pools survey also found that more than half of Americans (52%) worry about COVID-19 at public pools, and among that group, 82% are especially concerned about large crowds at the pool. Fortunately, the CDC states that there is no evidence COVID-19 can spread to people through pool water, and proper operation and disinfection of pools should kill the virus that causes COVID-19.
“This summer, as we hit the pool decks, it’s important for us to keep safety in mind by maintaining a social distance from others, even in the water and on the pool deck,” added Gaines.
What should pool operators do to make swimmers feel comfortable this summer? Most Americans (57%) want limited capacity at public pools this summer, and vaccination status appears to do little to ease swimmers’ concerns as 59% of already-vaccinated Americans said they would still require limited capacity to feel comfortable swimming in a public pool.
Additionally, the CDC recommends setting a clear COVID protocol at each establishment, such as determining cleaning procedures, when employees should stay home, and what to do in case of exposure – and staying updated with the latest CDC guidance on operating public pools, hot tubs, water playgrounds during COVID-19.
Finally, pool operators should clearly communicate expectations to swimmers, including any face mask policies, if applicable. However, swimmers should never wear a face mask in the water, as this could lead to increased threat of distress in the water.
“We’re all ready to get back outside and enjoy the pool – whether in our backyards, at a public pool, or while vacationing – but safety is still a priority,” said Sabeena Hickman, President and CEO of the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance. “Together, by following proper safety protocols, we can all enjoy the 2021 swimming pool season.”
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She holds a Bachelor's degree in Communication & Mass Media from Panteion University of Political & Social Studies of Athens and she has been editor and editor-in-chief in various economic magazines and newspapers.