Maryland health official encourages water safety as summer approaches

This summer, many families will find themselves on or around the water, whether it’s a pool party or a day at the beach. As outings near bodies of water begin to take place, you’re reminded to keep water safety top of mind, so those excursions don’t end tragedy.

The dangers of the water were displayed last Saturday when a 7-year-old girl and her father drowned during a backyard pool party in Charles County. According to police, the father jumped into the water to save the girl, but he also couldn’t swim.

When it comes to drownings, the younger the child, the higher the risk of them falling victim to the water.

“It does not take much for a child to drown in, even shallow water,” said Dr. Clifford Mitchell, Director of the Environmental Health Bureau at the Maryland Department of Health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the leading cause of death in children between 1 and 4 years old.

“Drowning kills more children in that age group than anything else but birth defects,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell’s recommendation to parents is to never take their eyes off their kids when they are around the water.

When around natural bodies of water, Mitchell recommends children wear life jackets. They could also be used in pools by children who may be weak swimmers. If a child cannot swim, consider signing them up for swimming lessons.

Swimming near a lifeguard, someone trained in life-saving techniques such as CPR, is essential as well, Mitchell said.

When it comes to backyard pools, Mitchell said they should be surrounded by a barrier when not in use to keep children out.

“Pools without barriers are naturally attractive to children,” he said.

When it comes to older children, even though they may have more experience in the water, Mitchell said new concerns arise, including the use of drugs and alcohol. He said young people under the influence and in the water have led to deadly outcomes.

He recommends when parents talk to their children about not using drugs or alcohol and the danger that activity poses, especially when getting behind the wheel of the car, they should add this topic to the discussion.

“Those same kinds of warnings should be issued to children with respect to swimming,” Mitchell said.

There are risks for adults in the water as well.

“Even adults can get into trouble if they have not been trained to swim, or don’t know how to swim,” he said.

For adults who cannot swim, especially if they have children, Mitchell said they should not be afraid to ask around to see who nearby is able to swim, when around a smaller body of water, such as a backyard pool. Then, in an emergency situation, seek that person out.

“It’s like calling 9-1-1,” he said.

The bottom line, Mitchell said, when it comes to being safe in and around the water is “you have to treat water with respect.”

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Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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