Tips for Staying Safe at the Pool this Summer

A group of kids splashes and laughs while swimming in a pool

With the official start of summer right around the corner, the hottest weather of the year will soon be upon us. 

South Shore residents will undoubtedly be looking for ways to beat the heat. While the gatherings might not look the same as in the past due to COVID-19, for many, that relief will come in the form of a taking a swim in a pool.

Whether it’s in the backyard or at a local community center, swimming in a pool is as much a part of summer on the South Shore as cookouts or fireworks on the 4th of July.

However, while pools offer a break from the heat and can be a good source of exercise, pools can also be dangerous — especially for children.

In fact, according to the CDC, drowning was the leading cause of death in American children between the ages of 1 and 4 in 2018.

It was also the second-leading cause of death in American children between the ages of 5 and 9 during that same year, the last year for which complete data is available.

As a pediatric emergency medicine provider, I’ve unfortunately seen what can happen when people don’t exercise extreme caution around pools — whether they’re top-of-the-line in-ground pools or small “kiddie” pools.

Practice proper pool precautions

Of course, this isn’t to say that pools should be avoided all summer. Instead, it’s important to take precautionary measures to ensure that your family’s time at the pool is as safe as possible.

  • Ensure proper supervision – Children should never be left alone at a pool. A parent or guardian must be present at all times when children are either in the pool or in the area around the pool. Parents should not even “run inside for a minute” while a child is in or around the pool. It can take only a moment of lack of supervision for tragedy to occur.
  • Ensure there are barriers around the pool – For home pools, appropriate fencing, gates, and pool covers are essential for ensuring maximum safety. Proper barriers will prevent a child from accessing the pool without the help of an adult.
  • CPR courses save lives – Homeowners who have a pool on their property should strongly consider taking a CPR course as a safety measure. While most in-person classes are suspended, organizations like the American Red Cross offer online courses. You’ll hope you never need to practice what you learn, but taking a course could help save a life.
  • Enroll your kids in swimming lessons & water safety courses – Early introduction to swimming is a great way to get your kids acclimated to the water from a young age. 
  • Have life safety equipment on hand at all times – All pool owners should have basic life safety equipment easily accessible in the area around the pool. Items include life jackets, safety rings, and other flotation devices. It’s important to show children where this equipment is stored and how it’s used, just in case they ever need to find it.
  • Wear sunscreen – Protect your skin! Even “waterproof” sunscreen needs to be reapplied multiple times over the course of the day. A rule of thumb is that 1 oz should be used per application. Check the label on your sunscreen for specific reapplication details.

 

Assisting a drowning victim with A-B-C

Homeowners who have pools on their properties should always know what to do to assist a drowning victim — even if it’s knowledge you never have to put into practice.

Known as the “A-B-C Method,” these are the steps you should take after a drowning victim has been removed from the water:

  • (A)irway – Tilt the victim’s head back and ensure that the airway isn’t obstructed by vomit or debris.
  • (B)reathing – Pinch the victim’s nose and breathe into the victim’s mouth.
  • (C)irculation – Perform chest compressions to stimulate the heart and resume blood circulation.

 

The information above represents the most basic knowledge that a pool owner should have; however, I’d still recommend taking a proper CPR/water safety course as well.

Pool safety in the age of COVID-19

Along with the precautions discussed above, it’s important to take additional safety measures when enjoying a swim in the pool during COVID-19.

  • Wear a mask on the pool deck – Whether it’s at a public pool or at a home pool with people who aren’t members of your household, masks should be worn on the pool deck, especially if social distancing is not possible. Masks should not be worn while swimming.
  • Monitor the crowd size – Operators of public pools are required to adhere to state guidelines on pool capacity. While these operators will undoubtedly do their best to follow these guidelines, if a pool looks crowded, consider coming back another day. 
  • Plan for a shorter stay – At public pools, locker rooms and bathrooms will likely remain closed until further government guidance. With these facilities unavailable, it makes sense to shorten your stay.
  • Keep cleanliness in mind – Homeowners should take additional steps to keep their pool and the area around it clean. Sanitize high-touch surfaces like hand rails or pool edges. Ensure that tables and chairs around the pool are wiped down regularly.

 

As we slowly recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, taking some time to enjoy the nice weather and all of the wonderful things that come with a New England summer can be great for our emotional well-being.

By taking the proper precautions, you can ensure that your summer swims are as safe and refreshing as possible.

 

Mark Waltzman, MD, is Chair of Pediatrics at South Shore Hospital

Dr. Waltzman is also an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a Senior Associate in Medicine, Division of Emergency Medicine, at Boston Children's Hospital.