Children at heightened drowning risk after pandemic canceled swim lessons, agency says

80 Texas children drowned last year; 25 so far this year

Child drownings are a worry every summer, but this year is more concerning due to a pandemic gap.
Child drownings are a worry every summer, but this year is more concerning due to a pandemic gap.

SAN ANTONIO – Child drownings are a worry every summer, but this year is more concerning due to a pandemic gap.

Swim lessons were canceled last summer, leaving many children ill-equipped and at greater risk for drowning, a report for the Consumer Product Safety Commission found.

Last year in Texas alone, 80 children died from drowning, according to state. It’s not even summer yet this year, and 25 children have drowned.

Nationwide, drowning is the number one cause of accidental death for children under the age of five.

Drowning is preventable. Swim lessons and adult supervision are key.

“Swimming is a survival skill, a necessity for kids,” said Crystal Vega, aquatics director at the YMCA on Henderson Pass.

Swim lessons were called off last summer, but are back and in high demand at the YMCA, Vega said.

For 7-year-old Francine Talerico, swimming is fun. It’s also a skill that could save her life.

“I think it’s something all children should know how to do,” said her grandmother Cheryl Talerico.

Even young children can benefit from learning basic skills, Vega said.

“It’s important for kids to know what to do if they ever end up in trouble in the water,” she said.

She said there are three basic skills to learn. The first is to become comfortable submerged under water. The second is to learn to roll into a back float to breathe and roll again to swim. The third is to to learn how to get to the side of a pool.

“Many drownings and near-drownings happen just five to six feet from the wall,” Vega said. “That’s why we teach jumping in and pushing off the bottom and getting back to the side.”

Adding to the concerns about increased drownings this year, the surge in backyard pool building during the past year as families stayed home more.

Water lessons also apply to adults. Vega said it’s critical that children be watched 100% of the time and to avoid distractions like cellphones.

“It can take 10 seconds from a child to go from distressed to under water - in the blink of an eye,” she said.

Vega advises families take turns being the water watcher, the person who gives full attention to watching the kids in the pool.

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About the Authors:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.