Quebec health-care and swimming experts are urging caution after a deadly weekend in the province, where a four-year-old boy died and two other children nearly drowned in separate incidents involving backyard pools.
The Montreal Children’s Hospital Trauma Centre issued an alert on water safety shortly after the weekend, with the goal of preventing what normally is a fun summer activity from “taking a wrong turn.”
“We’re very, very concerned at the fact that summer has barely started and we have had several drownings this year,” said Liane Fransblow, co-ordinator for the injury prevention program at trauma centre.
Drowning not only occurs quickly, it is silent. It can happen to everyone — and anyone can be a victim, Fransblow said.
“There is nobody who is immune to drowning,” she said.
The trauma centre is urging vigilance through several ways, including close and constant adult supervision of children near water. It also advises never swimming alone and learning CPR training.
The Montreal Children’s Hospital lists several measures to prevent children from drowning, including restricting direct access to pools and installing adequate fencing around it. Gates and fences should always be locked when the pool isn’t being used, too.
Raynald Hawkins, general manager of the Lifesaving Society’s Quebec branch, also stressed clamping down on access to backyard pools.
“Vigilance is a key message, but right now we need to focus on the accessibility,” he said. “Eighty-five per cent of the drowning situations with toddlers and kids is because they had direct access from the house to the backyard pool.”
In Quebec, there are 80 drownings per year on average for the past decade and that’s an improvement, according to Hawkins. The majority — 75 per cent — occur during the warm months from June to September.
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Another concern? The role the COVID-19 pandemic has played when it comes to safety water.
“We are worried about drownings like every year, but there is a potential with the current situation there will be more drownings this year,” Fransblow said.
Experts say there have been fewer available swimming lessons, especially for young children, since 2020. Hawkins also points to a glaring shortage of lifeguards in the province.
“The combination of those two factors could lead to more drowning situations, particularly in the swimming pools,” he said.
On top of that, Fransblow notes more families installing pools in their backyards over the course of the health crisis.
All of these factors are part of the reason why experts encourage a multi-faceted approach to keeping days by the pool as safe as possible.
“There is no one thing that prevents drowning,” said Fransblow.
For parents, that includes watching children closely, even when you’re right in front of them — because you won’t hear them fight to break the water’s surface.
“Don’t do any other task than supervise them,” Hawkins said.
— with files from Global News’ Brayden Jagger Haines