Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that pool fees are being waived...

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that pool fees are being waived statewide for state-run facilities for the rest of the summer. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Dwayne Sair sat at the edge of the Dix Hills Park pool while his children, Skylah, 4, and Josh, 15, made their way in from the steps to the shallow end.

Nearby in the water, Nydia Galeas held her 2-year-old close. Meanwhile her husband kept his eyes on their two other children, 7 and 12, as they swam.

Both families were getting an early start on the time-honored tradition of finding a safe, fun break from the heat at the town pool. They said they're willing to do what it takes to keep it that way.

Drowning is the leading cause of death nationwide for children between 1 and 4, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Experts are reminding Long Islanders of drowning risks at backyard and public pools this summer.
  • Drowning is the leading cause of death nationwide for children between 1 and 4.
  • Even if a lifeguard is on duty, always keep watch on your children, according to experts.

“You see really bad stuff in the news every summer,” Galeas said, adding that her 12-year-old son is a strong swimmer but she never allows him in the water without supervision.

Dwayne Sair, of Huntington, with his son, Josh, 15, and...

Dwayne Sair, of Huntington, with his son, Josh, 15, and daughter, Skylah, 4 on Tuesday at the Dix Hills Park pool. Credit: Newsday/Nicolas Villamil

“I don't budge,” Sair said of how he supervises his children whenever they swim. “You never know what could happen.”

Since 2015, Newsday has reported on at least nine children younger than 12 drowning in pools in Suffolk County.

According to the governor's office, 230 New Yorkers drowned in 2021, part of more than 1,000 drowning deaths in New York from 2017 to 2021. Nationwide, drownings of children under age 15 jumped by 12% from 2020 to 2021, according to the most recent data available. 

Just in the past month, Dr. Jacqueline Bober, an attending emergency room pediatric physician at Stony Brook Children's Hospital, told Newsday she has seen three cases of children hospitalized for treatment of near-drowning.

Bober said drownings typically occur at pools during backyard barbecues, with the Memorial Day and Fourth of July extended holidays usually resulting in the highest peak in hospitalizations.

“The biggest thing is that there should always be a pool watcher,” Bober said. “Someone not on their phone, someone not drinking, just someone watching the pool and everyone in the pool.”

Bobby Hazen, who lives in Shirley and is the president of Stop Drowning Now, a national drowning prevention organization, agreed, adding that drowning “is certainly not like you see in the movies. It's not flailing and calling for help.”

Instead, Hazen said, when a person is drowning, “adults included, they panic. They lose their buoyancy and they cannot make a sound because there's water in their lungs. That's why they say drowning is silent.”

Bober and Hazen both recommended gating around backyard pools and an alarm that alerts parents if a child opens the backyard pool gate.

Hazen added home pools should have a long pole a person can grab onto if they begin to drown; only those trained to rescue drowning swimmers should dive into the pool after them.

And while Bober says she has never seen a child hospitalized because of a municipal pool drowning in her eight years at Stony Brook, Hazen still recommends parents look after their children closely at public pools, even if a lifeguard is on duty.

Swimming lessons for young kids are also essential, Bober and Hazen said.

As a founding member of the New York Water Safety Coalition, Hazen said he worked with Gov. Kathy Hochul to pass NY SWIMS, an initiative that expands access to swimming lessons and municipal pools across the state. 

“I absolutely do think it's going to make a huge impact,” Hazen said. “Learning how to swim can reduce the risk of drowning by up to 88%, so you're taking away the risk by teaching somebody how to positively react instead of panicking.”

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