Pool safety a priority as summer approaches amid COVID-19


Triple-digit temperatures are upon Arizona, with some residents hitting their pools to stay cool.

But with COVID-19 affecting public spaces like gyms and city pools, an important piece of the swimming process has been stunted: in-person education.

“Swimming is not something that can be learned online. It has to be learned in the water,” said Dejan Simurdic, owner of British Swim School- East Valley. “It’s a completely different environment. It’s a completely different set of muscles.”

British Swim School, an international company with locations throughout the Valley, operates out of gyms like Esporta and LA Fitness or at senior living facility pools. But COVID-19 has made sessions at those facilities next to impossible.

Instead, parents and children are receiving newsletters with important tips and exercises to do at home, to strengthen muscles and allow children to be comfortable in the water.

British Swim School also started its Backyard Swimming Pool Patrol program with both COVID-19 and the upcoming summer in mind.

“We are aware that lots of families are now staying at home,” Mr. Simurdic said. “Especially here in Arizona, there are so many pools, underground pools, overground pools, kiddie pools. People are trying to cool off as the weather is getting hotter. And most of the drownings do unfortunately happen in backyard pools.”

Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death for children ages 1–4. And 10 people drown each day in the nation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With May being National Water Safety Month, local safety pros warn that the backyard swimming pool is a drowning danger zone, and a potential COVID-19 catastrophe waiting to happen.

Why? While local families are quarantined together, parents are distracted, trying to work from home while cooking, cleaning and helping children study, according to officials. They’re stressed about finances and job security. They need quiet time, and might urge children to go outside and play in the backyard swimming pool. And before they know it, someone drowns.

“It becomes very dangerous,” Mr. Simurdic said about the potential lack of supervision. “If they go one day to swim on the weekend and leave all the toys around the pool, kids tend to reach and try to go and get those toys. And they might just fall in. As well all know, drowning is silent, and it happens more quick. And that’s why we have to be more vigilant this year probably more than any other year before.”

The Backyard Swimming Pool Patrol is a safety initiative including a Safe Swimmer Pledge and a Water Watcher Badge to prevent drownings as Arizona heads into May’s prime swimming season.

“We created the Backyard Swimming Pool Patrol because right now there are no swim lessons or in-person CPR classes,” stated Melissa McGarvey, National Aquatics Director for the elite British Swim School. “With social distancing, there are fewer people around to watch the kids. Parents are stressed and multitasking, yet they must be more vigilant than ever to prevent backyard drownings.”

In the Safe Swimmer Pledge, children agree to:

  • Never swim alone;
  • Never play or swim near drains or suction fittings;
  • Always dive in feet first; and
  • Obey pool rules.

The program also calls for people to appoint a Water Watcher to monitor children in or around the pool.

Water Watchers wear a badge and can only leave if the pool is empty or if they hand the badge to another person who has agreed to take on the job. The watcher should be an older adult, not a teenage sibling or friend who might easily get distracted.

The watcher should not read, listen to music, or get distracted with a cell phone or screen. All eyes and ears on the children always.

That advice would have proved critical in early April, when a 2-year-old girl drowned in a pool at her Glendale home. Fire officials said the girl, her mother and her 5-year-old brother were at home in the backyard while the father worked on renovations. At one point, the mother went inside, leaving the children outside with their father, who was occupied with the renovating.

However, when the father went to look for his children, he realized his daughter was in the pool, which had no fencing. The girl was pulled out but later died.

People hear it almost every other week, especially in Arizona, of a child under the age of 3 drowning in a pool. Preventing them from accessing the pool has become a critical part in saving their lives.

The British Swim School calls for people to install a 4-foot or taller fence around the pool and spa, using self-closing and self-launching gates. People are also encouraged to ask neighbors to do the same.

“I’ve been to many events in the community and people just say, ‘Oh I don’t have to worry about that, I don’t have a pool.’ Well your neighbor has a pool, your parent has a pool. Your kids will go and play at somebody’s home that has a pool,” Mr. Simurdic said. “There are so many man-made lakes that kids can walk into. It’s not just children. On every child that drowns, there’s five adults that drown. Adults are drowning at higher rates than kids. Those adults are the kids who never learned how to be safe.”

For other safety measures, people can install pool and gate alarms to alert them when someone goes near the water. People should also ensure the pool or spa have compliant drain covers, and consider a surface wave or underwater alarm.

Distractions are also an issue when it comes to safe swimming and pool use. Don’t use flotation devices as a substitute for supervision, officials say. Also, don’t leave objects — like toys — around the pool that could attract a child. And don’t leave chairs or other furniture around a pool for children to climb on and possibly fall in.

With more children at home and outdoor temperatures rising, Banner Children’s is encouraging families to remember the ABCs of water safety by creating a coloring activity and providing information about drowning prevention.

The free coloring page is available to download at ww.bannerhealth.com/watersafety, along with useful information to help parents teach their children about safety around water. Once children finish coloring, parents are encouraged to take a picture and post to their Instagram story, tagging @Banner_Health for a chance to be featured on Banner Health’s social media accounts.

“So many parents are juggling triple duties during this pandemic — being mom and dad, working at home and being teachers,” said nurse Tracey Fejt, RN, trauma injury prevention coordinator at Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa. “Being pulled in so many directions can make it easy to lose safety focus beyond COVID-19. It’s important to remember pools and other bodies of water can pose severe dangers.”

Ms. Fejt emphasizes these safety tips:

  • Know the ABCs of water safety: Adult supervision, Barriers between children and water; Classes in CPR for adults and swim lessons for children; and safety Devices near water, such as lifejackets, hooks and rescue rings.
  • If a child or adult is missing, always look in the pool or spa first. Time is precious when a person is drowning.
  • Floaties: You may think they’re safe, but these “water-wings” can pose danger to children. Know what to look for in selecting and using them.
  • Drowning is silent, not involving splashing or screaming.
  • If your child falls into the water, calling 911 and administering CPR are critical to keeping your child alive.
  • Any water source can be a potential problem, including lakes, pools — even kiddie pools — spas, bathtubs, wading pools and even buckets of water.

So far in 2020, three children under the age of 4 years have died from drownings in Maricopa and Pinal counties, according to Children’s Safety Zone, a local nonprofit drowning-prevention group. In 2019, five children died from drowning, as well as one teen and 30 adults.