Child drowning risk continues to increase, new report warns


(NEW YORK) — Child drownings are on the rise, according to a new report, and experts warn that the pandemic has also put kids at an increased drowning risk this year.

“It was really hard for people to access swimming lessons last year,” Dr. Ben Hoffman, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention, told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “And from what I understand this year, it still remains challenging, because things have booked up pretty early.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recently found an increase in pool- or spa-related fatal drowning incidents among children under age 15. There were a total of 404 fatalities in 2018, compared to 395 in 2017 and 392 in 2016.

While there was a decrease in non-fatal injuries in 2020 — 5,800 injuries related to pool or spa submersions in children under 15 compared to the 6,300 in 2019 and 6,400 in 2018 — the report states that the decrease was likely due to COVID-19, which saw the shutdown of public spaces nationwide.

Now, with the country reopening, experts say that we could see those numbers rise once again.

“Year over year, we’ve almost doubled our drownings, unfortunately,” Dr. Patrick Mularoni, a pediatric emergency physician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, said.

Of those reported fatal drowning incidents between 2016 and 2018, 75% involved children under age 5, and 83% occurred at residential pools.

Last June, Emily Friske was isolating with her family in Valley Center, California, when her daughter Addie wandered off to the family pool. Friske later found Addie in it, on her side and not breathing.

“It’s every parent’s worst nightmare,” Friske told Good Morning America.

A former EMT, Friske and her husband, Jordan, performed CPR on Addie until an ambulance arrived.

“I thought, ‘This can’t be happening to us,'” Friske said.

Addie didn’t have a pulse for 20 minutes, and doctors worried she would have brain damage as a result, but she was awake within 24 hours. Her pediatrician called her recovery “miraculous” and told the family that doing CPR made all the difference.

“Please learn CPR,” Friske urged other families.

Learning CPR is among the CPSC’s top advice for how families can visit the pool safely this summer, particularly as experts warn that the pandemic has only increased the risk of drownings for children.

“As we enter the summer months, parents and caregivers must be mindful of the pandemic’s impact on their children’s swimming ability and water safety skills,” Robert Adler, the CPSC acting chairman, said in a statement.

Other advice from the CPSC includes never leaving a child in or near water unattended and installing proper barriers around a pool.

“Make sure that you designate someone to keep an eye on the children in and around the water each and every time,” Nychelle Fleming of the CPSC said.

But chiefly among these tips is making sure children know how to swim.

“As pools start to open up, I think it’s very important for parents to sign their children up for swim classes and get those kids learning how to swim,” Mularoni said.

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