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Experts provide suggestions on water safety this summer

Written By: Laura Frnka-Davis | Updated: May 29, 2020
water safety

In addition to the hazards posed by drowning, this summer brings another concern while playing in the water: the transmission of COVID-19.

Summertime is upon us, and although this season will look a bit different due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential to remember that drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1 to 4.

“A child can drown easily in a few inches of water, and it only takes a minute,” said Kim Cheung, MD, PhD, a pediatrician with UT Physicians, associate professor of

Kim K. Cheung
Kim Cheung, MD, PhD

pediatrics at McGovern Medical Center at UTHealth, and a member of the Texas State Child Fatality Review Team Committee. “Parents and caregivers must be vigilant when supervising children around water. A quick and silent killer, in the time it takes to grab a towel, a child can drown, and a preventable tragedy can unfold.”

Even if children know how to swim, it is vital to keep an eye on them. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Cheung provide these tips to effectively keep kids safe around water:

  • Pay close attention and do not take phone calls, text, cook, or engage in any activities that will serve as distractions.
  • Swimming pools should have four-sided fences that are at least four feet high with self-closing and self-latching gates.
  • Invest in taking a CPR class.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol while supervising children in the water. It can impair your judgment and delay reaction time.
  • According to the AAP, “touch supervision” is essential. Get in the water with younger children or less confident swimmers. Always keep children within arm’s reach. If you need to get out of the pool, take your child with you.
  • Under no circumstances should a baby or young child be left under the supervision of another child.
  • If you’re hosting a small gathering with adults and children, have the adults take turns being the assigned “water watcher” for 15 minutes each.
  • Children are naturally curious and will commonly disappear during “non-swim” time. Make sure gates and latches are closed, and securely fasten hot tub covers when not in use.

In addition to the routine hazards water poses, this summer, there will be another concern for parents and caregivers: transmission of COVID-19.

While the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states there is no evidence that COVID-19 is spread through pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas as long as the places are adequately maintained, the concern is that social distancing will be compromised.

Michael L. Chang, MD
Michael L. Chang, MD

“Normally, you won’t be able to wear a mask when swimming or playing in the water, and most likely, you will be in closer proximity with others using the area,” said Michael Chang, MD, pediatric infectious diseases specialist with UT Physicians and McGovern Medical School. “Also, the probability is high that you will be touching the same surfaces as other people, like spigots on water fountains and door handles.”

In light of this, Chang recommends checking if the pool, hot tub, spa, or water play area you want to visit is enforcing social distancing guidelines from the CDC. He also suggests checking to see what hygiene measures are in place and specifically look for hand sanitizers, public posting of social distancing instructions, cleaning schedules, and whether or not employees are practicing good social distancing.

“Once you have the opportunity to evaluate a location, continue to practice social distancing, wear masks while you’re not in the water, and be smart about hand hygiene. Bring disinfectant wipes to clean the area around where you are leaving your belongings,” said Chang.

Beaches and lakes present a separate issue since there is no chlorination or reliable water quality measurement. Since the virus that causes COVID-19 has been detected in sewer systems and wastewater, presumably, viral particles could potentially be found in lakes or oceans as well.

“The volume of water in a lake or ocean will likely dilute the infectious particles quickly, and I think transmission through the water remains unlikely,” said Chang. “However, the potential for proximity to other people and contamination of frequently touched services still apply, so social distancing, wearing masks, and hand hygiene are the best ways to protect yourself and your family.”

For more information on water safety, visit the AAP website. For more resources and articles on COVID-19, visit our information center.  

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.