As we head into Memorial Day weekend and the summer, families are making plans to hit the pools, ponds and lakes.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has put a hold on vital swimming lessons local organizations normally host ahead of the busy swimming season.
But that's not stopping local organizations from saving lives.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88% for preschoolers.
The problem -- there are too many preschoolers going into the summer right now that haven’t had their swim lessons yet this year.
That's why the YMCA of Metropolitan of Dallas is putting out videos, pushing for parents step in the role of lifeguarding and supervise their children at the pool more than ever before.
“I think we have to constantly remind parents that supervision around the pool is different than anything else you supervise your child doing. Drowning is quick and silent you have to keep your eyes on them at all times,” said Jen Pewitt, associate vice president of aquatics for YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas. “We are encouraging parents to make sure you have those additional barriers around the home pools, whether it’s your home pool or grandma’s or neighbors."
The YMCA is also encouraging parents to download water watcher cards to make sure an adult is watching those kids.
"It’s just a physical reminder that you can wear around your wrist or your neck. It reminds you that you are the water watcher," said Pewitt. "It’s a way for parents to designate a water watcher, that’s one person who can lifeguard the water and keep an eye on kids."
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In the meantime, the YMCA of Metro Dallas plans to launch a phased reopening of locations starting June 1 after being closed for over two months. Click here to read the full reopening plan.
That means there are also some ideas to work in safe and socially-distant swimming lessons, potentially in mid-June for young children.
“Where there’s hopefully going to be an opportunity to come and take swimming lessons and the skills are maybe done with the parent in the water and the instructor not in the water so that face-to-face contact is happening between the child and the parent. There’s some ideas out there,” said Pewitt.
Additionally, she hopes that parents will remember to reinforce their pools with proper fencing and pool gate locks, as well as locking doors and gates leading up to the pool or requiring children to ask for permission before swimming.
"You’re sort of always listening for them, you’re listening for that cry or that cue that something is wrong. But in the swimming environment, you’re not going to hear a cue," Pewitt said of truly supervising children this summer.
"That’s why we are telling parents, you have to physically be looking at your child. Because when they get in danger, it happens just below the surface of the water and you won’t hear them," Pewitt said.
Over in Fort Worth, swimming safety is going virtual.
The coalition is also planning to host free and interactive virtual swimming safety classes on zoom starting this coming Tuesday and next Thursday. There will be six classes total over the next six weeks and if all goes well, they will do more.
To access those free virtual safety classes online, you just have to sign up on the coalition’s website by clicking here.
The organization normally works with other organizations like the YMCA of Metro Fort Worth and even local fire departments to educate families on swimming safety and CPR training throughout the year.
“This year it’s been turned on its head like so many things have with COVID. We are having to pivot all of those things to online and try to spread our message online. It’s been a challenge," said James Fike, president of the FWDPC.
He expressed worry that the pandemic could have a domino effect on drownings this summer.
“Because it’s quite possible that lifeguarded pools will be in short supply and that just means people are now going to congregate in their friends' backyard pool, friends apartment pool or river or lake that aren’t lifeguarded and that is just a recipe for bad things to happen,” he said. “Even if the pools re-open like the city pools, there’s a good chance that they’ll be at 25% or 50% capacity. People are going to be turned away and they’re not going to just stop swimming.“
Fike said even if you enrolled in swimming lessons last summer, it's important for both parents and children to revisit those skills.
“In a lot of cases, it’s not like riding a bike. Just because you learned last summer doesn’t necessarily mean that right away you’re going to be swimming like a fish," he said.
He gave us the perfect example of why designating a water watcher and having parents fill the role of a lifeguard is important for this summer amid the pandemic.
“My daughter had a birthday party at our own pool and I was the designated water watcher. There was this child who went to push off and swim across the pool to the other side where the kids were," he said. "He realized that he wasn’t going to make it and tried to turn around and come back. He wasn’t going to make that either. And then was going under -- I had to jump in with my clothes on and pull him out. That was definitely a tragedy averted because somebody was watching the pool."
Fike added, “It seems exaggerated but over and over parents who have been victims of child drownings say they only turned their back for two seconds. So it really is so quick."