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School's Out: Experts Urge People To Watch Their Kids Around The Water

The average backyard swimming pool could have about two gallons of urine in it.
The average backyard swimming pool could have about two gallons of urine in it.

Wednesday was the last day of school in Broward and Miami-Dade counties — and officials are putting an emphasis on water safety for the summer.

South Florida U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz held a news conference Wednesday morning, as children in Broward and Miami-Dade counties were finishing up their last hours of school for the year.

The idea? To get parents to learn more about water safety and the dangers of accidental drowning. A child can drown in just two inches of water.

"We hear the tragic stories all too often in South Florida — a toddler who hasn't yet learned to swim wanders into a neighborhood pool without proper fencing, or they wander out their own back door and a parent gets distracted for just a few minutes at a backyard barbecue, or switching the clothes from the washer in the dryer or thinking that someone else was watching them," said Wasserman Schultz. "These accidents are beyond devastating and perhaps all the more so because they are preventable."

According to the Florida Department of Health — from 2017 to 2019, enough children under the age of five died by drowning every year to fill three to four preschool classrooms.

Cassie McGovern, drowning prevention program manager for the Florida Department of Health in Broward County, shared her story at the event as well as resources for parents.

"We have a problem because summer hasn't even started. And we usually have an uptick around July 4, Labor Day, Memorial Day," she said.

McGovern lost one of her own children to drowning.

"Being a mother of a drowning victim, and also a mother of three young girls when the incident happened, I felt like I was doing everything right," she said. "That I felt like I had the fence. I felt like I was at home. But again, knowledge is power. Education is the tool."

She recommends starting swimming lessons for your child at as early as six months old.

"Get them going. They don't have to be a Michael Phelps, or a strong Olympic swimmer, but they need to know enough to save themselves because we live in South Florida where we can't afford the luxury of not knowing the basics," she reiterated.

Dr. Peter Antevy also spoke at the event Wednesday. He is an emergency room physician at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital and talked about how important it is to know CPR.

He referenced the tragic drowning of Olympic gold medalist Bode Miller's 19-month-old daughter, Emeline, drowning by accident in 2018, as an example.

"We can quadruple survival just by doing the right thing at the scene," he said. "If the patient's not awake and you can't wake them up, that's number one. If they're not breathing normally, you need to do CPR."

So far just in 2021, there have been 49 drowning fatalities in Florida, 41 of which were children under the age of four, according to McGovern. There have been seven drowning deaths in Broward County this year and nine recorded drownings where the child survived.

McGovern even recommended parents hang chimes from doorknobs that lead outside.

"Door chimes alert you the moment that door opens," she said. "No matter where you are in the home, you'll hear that door chime open. So you know to go."

There's more resources for caregivers to learn about how to prevent drowning and the simple steps they can take, at watersmartfl.com as well as watersmartbroward.org.
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Caitie Switalski Muñoz