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The latest CDC data shows unintentional drowning deaths have been rising for years, with 2023 the deadliest for kids

Experts and swim instructors agree the pandemic had an effect on the number of deaths as people were unable to send their kids to swim lessons.
A sign in the pool informs swimmers the water is too shallow for diving
Posted at 4:59 PM, May 24, 2024

With the unofficial start of summer here on Memorial Day weekend, officials are reminding families of the importance of water safety.

The latest CDC data shows unintentional drowning deaths have been rising for years due to the pandemic, with more than 4,5000 unintentional drowning deaths annually between 2020 and 2022, an increase of 500 since 2019.

According to the report, “Drowning is the number one cause of death for children 1-4 years old in the United States. Today’s study shows that drowning rates were highest among this age group. By race and ethnicity, the highest drowning rates were among non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native and non-Hispanic Black persons.”

“It’s definitely something that people are reaching out to me about- even across the country. Like, I have family members in Mississippi, and they’re terrified of moving next to a pool,” said Sam Lewis, general manager and a swim instructor at Little Kickers Swim School in Denver.

Experts and swim instructors agree the pandemic had an effect on the number of deaths as people were unable to send their kids to swim lessons.

According to the CDC report, 15.4% of American adults do not know how to swim. 55% say they have never taken a lesson.

The report goes on to show that more than 1 in 3 (36.8%) Black adults reported they do not know how to swim. Additionally, 2 in 3 Black adults (63%) and 3 in 4 Hispanic adults (72%) reported never taking a swimming lesson. Research suggests the difference in self-reported swimming ability may be linked to differences in access to swimming lessons or other historical and social factors.

Experts say all it takes is a few moments for a child to drown even if supervised by a lifeguard and parent.

“My first introduction to swimming was a near drowning,” said Cullen Jones, professional swimmer and gold medalist in the 2008 Olympics for Team USA. “In 2024, we have cell phones- we have all of these different things that are pinging us — watches, all of these things that are distractions. So, if in the 90’s I could have a near drowning, it’s so much easier now.”

To make it easier to keep eyes on your child, experts suggest buying brightly colored swimsuits such as red, neon, or orange. Colors like white and blue tend to blend into water when submerged as little as a foot, making it more difficult to spot.