The number of children under the age of four who die from drowning in Florida every year could fill up to four preschool classrooms. According to Florida Health, drowning is now the leading cause of preventable child death in the Tampa Bay area.
Last year, 18 children under the age of six drowned in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco Counties.
Petra Vybiralova is the Safe Kids Supervisor for the Suncoast Safe Kids Coalition. She said one of the reasons the number is so high is because the warning signs are not always evident.
“Drowning is absolutely silent,” said Vybiralova. “Sometimes there’s a confusion about what drowning looks like. Most people imagine a scene from Jaws, where the swimmer is screaming and yelling and waving their arms.”
Vybiralova said what really happens is that a child may slip into the water and cannot push themselves up for longer than a gasp of air. According to Hillsborough County’s Preventable Needless Deaths campaign, a person can drown in as little as one inch of water.
“Florida, having water everywhere, is one of the leading states in the country with a large number of drownings,” said Vybiralova. “I would say it's definitely among the top three leading causes for unintentional injuries for children in our area.”
Here’s a list of suggestions from the Suncoast Safe Kids Coalition and Preventable Needless Deaths:
- Risks are year-round. March and April are higher risk months in Florida due to warmer weather. And while pools are particularly dangerous, many everyday household items can also pose a threat, including bathtubs, buckets, and toilets-- even a pet’s water dish.
- Children should be supervised near water sources. Infants and toddlers should always be accompanied by an adult in or near the water.
- Floaties don’t equal life preservers. These items should be used along with constant supervision.
- Texting creates a distraction. Drowning can begin in as little as 20 seconds. Since many drownings happen silently, it is important to eliminate even brief distractions, such as phone usage.
- Swim lessons can lower risks. Swim lessons are available for children as young as six months old. Lessons can cut the risk of drowning by up to 88%.
A new Senate bill was introduced on March 5 to prevent future child drownings. The bill would require new pools and homes to have at least two safety measures in place.