Health experts warn parents about drowning risks as COVID-19 restrictions lift on swimming pools

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HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC)– With summer approaching and water-related activities picking up, health experts are warning parents about drowning risks.

Due to restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, many children have been out of swim lessons for some time now. Restrictions lifting last week has begun a new transition for Virginia aquatic centers.

Swimming pools opened later in the season last year and with capacity restrictions due to COVID-19. In Phase Two of Governor Ralph Northam’s ‘Forward Virginia’ plan, limited pool use to exercise and instruction. Under Phase Three, indoor and outdoor swimming pools could open for free swim at 75% capacity.

As of May 28, mitigation strategies are no longer required in Virginia Aquatic Facilities. This includes reduced occupancy and social distancing requirements.

Goldfish Swim School provides indoor, year-round swim instruction to children ages 4 months to 12 years old. Kaileigh Robertson, a manager at the school, said families stopped coming for a while.

She told 8News, staff wants everyone to feel comfortable getting back in the water.

“This is their first time into society for a lot of our children who are younger,” Robertson said. “This is the first time they’re coming out. They’re around other kids. They’re around other adults. They’re seeing a different life outside of COVID.”

Goldfish Swim School is no longer limiting its one parent per child policy and staff has changed the larger swimming lanes to smaller lanes. (Photo: 8News reporter Rachel Keller)

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, drowning is the single leading cause of death among children aged one to four, and a top cause of death among teens. Since staying at home during the pandemic, children’s drowning risk may increase.

Amanda Roberts has taken her son to Goldfish for two years. Roberts said her son is happy to be back in the pool.

“The virus is difficult. It makes things difficult,” Roberts said. “But, now that they’ve opened up the pool more and they’re allowing more students to come back, it’s more fun for the kids.”

The school is no longer limiting its one parent per child policy and staff has changed the larger swimming lanes to smaller lanes. Employees have also moved the teacher to children ratio per class. But, masks are still required and instructors must wear face shields.

“This is just to continue to keep the kids safe if there are any kids under the age of 14 that are not able to be vaccinated at the moment,” Robertson said.

The school has also added measures to make sure children are safe prepared in the water. They have added an HVAC system above the pool to reduce the amount of bacteria in the room, and it is checked 2-3 times per day. They’ve also started using a Halo Fogger, which is a robot-like device that sanitizes the facility on its own for an hour.

As a result of the increased threat in childhood drownings, the American Association of Pediatrics recommends that children continue to participate in drowning prevention classes despite COVID. Experts recommend that children never swim alone and always wear a life jacket if they do not know how to swim.

Signs of drowning when someone is in the water:

  • Head low in the water, mouth at water level
  • Head tilted back with mouth open
  • Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
  • Eyes closed
  • Not using legs, vertical
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Trying to roll over on the back

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