Washington State Department of Health calls on swimmers to dive into safety as the forecast heats up

For immediate release: May 15, 2024   (24-054)

Contact: DOH Communications

May marks Water Safety Day & Healthy and Safe Swimming Week

OLYMPIA – With warmer days underway, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) wants to remind everyone that water safety is critical, especially this time of year, which is when most drownings occur in Washington. Lakes and rivers are cold enough to cause drownings by cold water shock, even in the strongest of swimmers.

"When a person submerges in cold water, the body's cold shock response can trigger an involuntary gasp causing the person to inhale water. If their head is underwater, they can drown and die within minutes,” said Alyssa Payne, Water Recreation Program public health advisor.

Yori’s Law (House Bill 1750) designates today, May 15, as Water Safety Day in Washington. The law promotes water safety awareness and swim education. It was established in honor of Yori Tsunoda, a 3-year-old boy who drowned in Western Washington in 2018.

Washington drowning data:

  • From 2018 to 2022, unintentional summer drowning deaths increased from 37% to 51%, with roughly 10 unintentional drowning deaths happening each month.
  • Between 2020 to 2022, most (61-71%) unintentional drowning deaths occurred in natural water, with more than half happening in lakes and rivers.
  • In 2021, unintentional drowning was the second leading cause of injury death for children 1-4 years old and accounted for 22% of all injury deaths for kids that age.
  • In 2021, about 20% of unintentional drowning deaths happened at someone’s home.

Following Water Safety Day, Healthy and Safe Swimming Week takes place May 27-31. It highlights the critical aspects of enjoying water activities safely and responsibly.

“Water Safety Day and Healthy and Safe Swimming Week are pivotal moments for us to reinforce the importance of water safety within our communities,” said Dave DeLong, Water Recreation Program lead. “By equipping people with the knowledge and skills to prevent water-related incidents and promoting good swimming habits, we aim to create safer water environments for everyone.”

Important water safety tips:

  • Learn basic swimming and water safety skills. Swim lessons early and often teach children the skills needed to stay safe while in and around the water.
  • Wear a life jacket. Life jackets reduce the risk of drowning for people of all ages and swimming abilities.
  • Be aware of the dangers of cold water and currents. When the weather warms up, the water can be cold and fast-moving from melting mountain snowpacks.
  • Go to a pool, it’s the safest place to swim. Local health departments inspect pools, hot tubs, and splash pads regularly to ensure health and safety.
  • Never swim while sick and take kids on frequent bathroom breaks. Although chlorine kills most germs within minutes, some parasites can survive more than 7 days.
  • Avoid distractions when children are swimming or around water. Adults should supervise children anytime they are in or around water. Supervision requires complete attention, even if another adult or lifeguard is present.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol and using cannabis when swimming or boating. Alcohol and cannabis impair judgment, balance, and coordination. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has the latest information on drowning increases in the U.S. DOH wants swimmers to enjoy the water while also making safety a top priority. 

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