Potomac River tragedies offer warning about summer water safety hazards
At least three recent deaths in the DC area offer a grim reminder about the summer’s heat and the risks of drowning. With the Covid-19 pandemic changing the easy and relaxed availability of public and supervised pools and other cool water recreation spots, will this be a harbinger of needless tragedies?
Here’s hoping not.
But authorities have issued stern warnings already about swimming in the Potomac River, where they caution that the currents run stronger and the waters can be chillier than casual enthusiasts may expect. It is illegal to swim in the Anacostia and Potomac, primarily due to pollution concerns. As the DCist news site reported, though:
“Emergency responders recovered a body from the Potomac River [June 11], near the Chain Bridge and Fletcher’s Cove, after being tipped off by civilian boaters. The discovery comes as local authorities are warning people about the dangers of swimming in that river, following at least two separate drownings.”
The news site said officials continue to investigate an earlier report of a drowning in the area, uncertain if the body that was sighted from the shore and recovered was from that case. They also know that a man fishing from a rock in the Potomac fell and was pulled under. Montgomery County officials reported a near-drowning in Clopper Lake, west of Gaithersburg.
As DCist noted, rescue officials are worried that multiple “drownings in relatively close succession of one another could indicate that residents are flocking to natural bodies of water while the area’s public swimming pools remain closed during the current stage of the coronavirus crisis.”
Public pools in the region have begun to reopen, according to health officials plans. As WUSA9 news reported about what’s occurring for now in northern Virginia:
“Indoor and outdoor pools can reopen for lap swimming, exercise, diving, and instruction. Swimmers and divers must stay 10 feet apart and no more than three people can be allowed in a diving area at one time.”
Water parks in northern Virginia will not reopen, although the district has announced that Arlington school pools will allow limited use in the next few weeks, WUSA9 reported. It also quoted Greg York, manager of a pool for the Overlee Community Association in Arlington:
“York said with so many of the public pools remaining closed, the phones at Overlee have been ringing off the hook with people trying to find somewhere to go swimming. ‘We’re getting calls from D.C., because D.C. is not open and none of their pools are,’ York said. Montgomery County and Prince George’s are not opening their pools yet, and we’re like, we’re full — we have a waiting list.’”
The coronavirus, of course, has led to huge economic pain, with major joblessness and hunger for far too many Americans. But for others. concerns about staying cool, keeping bored kids happy, and worries about public pools and waterways has led during the Covid-19 pandemic to a surge in consumers’ buying home alternatives — from inflatable wading pools to big, metal tanks more commonly used to water livestock.
Without offering too much buzzkill, it is worth this reminder from the American Red Cross about water safety risks:
“Ten people die each day from unintentional drowning, and on average two of them are under age 14. Drowning is responsible for more deaths among children ages one to four than any other cause except birth defects. Among those 1-14, drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death behind motor vehicle crashes. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency care for nonfatal submersion injuries.”
The Red Cross also has reported this:
“Children younger than 1 … are more likely to drown at home. For children younger than 5, 87% of drowning fatalities happen in home pools or hot tubs. Most take place in pools owned by family, friends, or relatives. After pools, bathtubs are the second leading location where young children drown. However, buckets, bath seats, wells, cisterns, septic tanks, decorative ponds, and toilets are also potential drowning sources for infants and toddlers. Those 5 to 17 years old are more likely to drown in natural water, such as a pond or lake.”
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damage done to them and their loved ones by defective and dangerous equipment, including pools and their supplies, as well as the trauma that can be wreaked on them by brain and spinal cord injuries, say from diving.
Swimming is a great exercise, and who doesn’t have a good memory or two about beating the summer torpor in this area with a refreshing dip in a pool, stream, lake, or the ocean? If a public pool near you is open and offering lessons, get the kids enrolled, if you can. Consult with the teachers but many parents are surprised to learn how early youngsters can start learning how to handle themselves in the water.
Safety matters most, of course, and the Covid-19 pandemic puts added burdens on parents and other adults to ensure that the adventurous young don’t suffer life changing or ending harm in beckoning waters — whether at forbidden rivers, the shore, or even by hopping in and out of neighbors’ pools.
Those lucky enough to have a pool — whether it’s a luxe oasis or a tiny inflatable sitting in the yard — should triple-check in these crazy times to ensure the safety of all aspects of that prized possession, including the tools and chemicals needed to maintain it. Better safe than sorry, right? Here’s hoping we all can stay cool and well in the difficult days ahead.