When it comes to water safety, parents are forever encouraged by experts to exercise an abundance of caution. That typically leads to enrolling kids in swimming lessons to help mitigate drowning risks, but are swim lessons safe right now? Do the risks of contracting the novel coronavirus outweigh a child's need to learn how to safely exist in the water?
"It appears as if properly chlorinated/brominated pool water will not transmit the virus, but the close personal contact, groups and potential for other surfaces (chairs, towels etc) remains a risk," Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, MD, FAAP, Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Injury Violence and Poison Prevention tells Romper. "I think each family should consider their circumstances (age of child and health status, potentially vulnerable family/contacts), need for lessons this summer as opposed to in the future (I would base this on likely exposure to pools and open water). Like returning to day care, each family will have a different sense of risk and benefit, and it is hard to issue one size fits all guidance."
Just like with so many activities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released guidelines for how to safely operate aquatic venues during the current pandemic. So long as these guidelines can be followed, water activities such as swim lessons can continue, per the CDC.
Despite coronairus concerns, water safety should still be a priority for parents, experts say. "The fact remains that drowning is the number one cause of accidental death in children under age 5," Melissa McGarvey, Director of Aquatics at British Swim School tells Romper. "With more families at home and distracted by challenging work-at-home scenarios, there's an imminent threat of increased drownings as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. And this is not just in pools, but in any body of water. While swim lessons aren't a guarantee, studies have shown that children that have completed formal swim instruction have an 88% reduction in accidental drownings."
Undoubtedly, swim lessons are important, but how can parents ensure that safety measures are in place to keep their children safe from the spread of COVID-19?
"I would think small class sizes, practices for decontamination of potential contaminated surfaces and items, health status of the staff and the other students are all key considerations," Dr. Hoffman says. "Based on recent consensus, it may be safer to consider outdoor classes than those indoors."
McGarvey tells Romper that parents should fully understand the precautionary measures being taken by the facility where their child will atttend lessons. "This includes everything from ensuring that all staff wears masks and/or face shields (depending on the regulations in each state), checking water chemical levels each hour, disinfecting any toys or materials used for swim instruction after each class, limiting the number of people at the pool and ensuring proper distancing between staff, customers and swimmers," McGarvey says.
Health checks including screening questionaires and temperature checks are also recommended to ensure that everyone attending lessons stays healthy. While it is not recommended by the CDC that swimmers wear masks, instructors can do so when not submerged and parents and spectators can wear a mask outside of the pool as well. Some parents may also consider private lessons for children who are in close contact with people who have compromised immune systems.
In addition to increased cleaning and safety protocols due to COVID-19 during in-person lessons, some swim schools have added a virtual component, Jenny McCuiston, Co-Founder, Goldfish Swim School tells Romper.
"In an effort to reach families during statewide lockdowns, Goldfish Swim School launched ‘Goldfish At Home’ — a YouTube series which provides free, virtual dry-land swim lessons to families nationwide, along with a variety of online and interactive water-safety focused initiatives and activities," McCuiston says. "The videos are designed to teach important water safety skills, develop confidence with swimming techniques, maintain momentum on progress made at lessons, and help kids stay active while learning something new. To access ‘Goldfish At Home,’ members and non-members alike can simply visit the Goldfish Swim School YouTube page and choose the level that matches their child’s age and progress."
If you choose not to allow your child to participate in swim lessons this summer in order to reduce the risks associated with contracting COVID-19, experts say you should absolutely still practice vigilance when it comes to protecting your child from drowning.
"Drowning prevention is all about layers of protection, especially for younger kids and those who cannot swim well. About 70% of drowning at home happen when it is not swim time — so making sure that kids can’t get to water when they are not being adequately supervised is crucial," Dr. Hoffman says.
Four-sided fences with locking gates are recommended for larger pools and smaller pools should be emptied when not in use, Dr. Hoffman tells Romper. Anywhere water can accumulate inside the home should feature a childproof lock as well — toilets, bathtubs, and even buckets can pose a drowning risk.
"A coast guard approved flotation device is another crucial layer of protection for kids who are not strong swimmers, and for anyone out on open water," Dr. Hoffman adds. He also warns parents that floaties are toys, not water safety devices.
"Many parents don't realize that most drownings and water accidents happen in the presence of adults," McGarvey tells Romper. She explains that a designated, distraction-free (no cell phones or alcohol in sight) adult should be assigned to watch children in bodies of water. "Also, ensure that your children understand basic water safety rules, such as never swimming alone, never reaching for toys in the water, and following pool rules wherever they go. These rules should be repeated often and right before entering any situation where water is present!"
Benjamin Hoffman, MD, FAAP, Chair of the AAP Council on Injury Violence and Poison Prevention
Melissa McGarvey, Director of Aquatics at British Swim School
Jenny McCuiston, Co-Founder, Goldfish Swim School
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