(The Hill) — Following the Memorial Day holiday, more Americans will soon be confronting a years-long summertime problem: fewer lifeguards on duty, particularly raising significant safety issues.
A shortage in lifeguards has been ongoing since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with a third of the more than 300,000 public U.S. pools being affected, according to the American Lifeguard Association.
Bernard Fisher, the director of health and safety for the group, told Axios that the pandemic “wiped the slate of certified lifeguards completely clean.”
Lifeguards need to be recertified every two years, which also could be contributing to the shortage.
The shortages might cause thousands of pools to be closed or operate on reduced hours throughout the summer.
Adam Katchmarchi, the executive director of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, said that drownings had been dropping since 2020, but they started to increase again with the onset of the pandemic. He said he is worried that some facilities will decide to remain open even if they do not have enough lifeguards to ensure safety.
“Unfortunately, we can’t say until we get probably five to six years’ worth of data that a new trend has been established, but all signs point that our drowning numbers are remaining steady post-COVID at this higher rate,” he told Axios.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 4,000 unintentional drownings happen in the United States every year, roughly 11 a day. The average age-adjusted drowning death rate from 2016 to 2020 was 1.28 deaths per 100,000 people.
Children aged 4 and under have the highest drowning rates, the CDC says, and most of those deaths occur in swimming pools.
Some states had as many as three or four deaths per 100,000, while others had less than one.
Here were the 10 states with the most drownings per 100,000 people, according to CDC data from 2016 to 2020:
- Alaska – 4.75
- Hawaii – 3.09
- Louisiana – 2.20
- Florida – 2.03
- Montana – 1.96
- Mississippi – 1.93
- Arkansas – 1.93
- Wyoming – 1.88
- Oklahoma – 1.77
- Idaho – 1.73