Avoid drowning and disease at pools
The beaches may be the Cape’s big summer draw, but visitors spend a lot of time enjoying swimming pools, too.
State and local officials urge swimmers to know their level of ability and to use care, caution and common sense to avoid illness, injury or drowning. For starters, don’t swim alone and don’t assume the pool has a lifeguard.
Bruce G. Murphy, director of the Yarmouth Health Department, said many pools in that town are not required to have lifeguards, so he cautioned visitors not to swim alone. Yarmouth does require a person trained in CPR and first aid to be on the premises, though not necessarily poolside, he said.
The state gives town boards of health the authority to determine if a pool requires a lifeguard, using the size of the pool, average attendance and complexity of disinfection equipment as criteria. According to the state guidelines, there should be one lifeguard to every 25 swimmers. If no lifeguard is present, a sign should indicate that.
According to Murphy, Yarmouth has approximately 90 public or commercial pools, both outdoor and indoor, and about 30 hot tubs that the department inspects.
“We do have the most pools on the Cape and possibly the state,” he added.
The pools are tested for bacteria before they open, and then once they are in use, operators should test their pools for chlorine and pH four times daily, he said. The town sends an inspector to check pools occasionally.
“If the chemicals are out of balance or you can’t see the bottom, they’re shut down,” Murphy said.
In most cases, a shutdown is caused by a rapid influx of swimmers, as when a cloudy day sends crowds of vacationers inside to swim, he said. The closure is often lifted within 24 hours, after the pool has been “shocked” to restore chemical balance and kill bacteria. The department orders a pool closed about “a half-dozen times a year,” Murphy said.
Don’t Spread Germs
The Centers for Disease Control provides these tips to prevent spread of germs while swimming in pools:
- Don’t swim if you have diarrhea or an open wound that is not covered with a waterproof bandage.
- Shower before you swim and wash hands after going to the bathroom.
- Parents should take young children on frequent bathroom breaks and check diapers often. Wash young children thoroughly before entering a pool. Don’t change diapers at poolside.
- Ask public pool operators if free chlorine and pH levels are checked at least twice a day.
- Dry ears thoroughly with a towel after swimming to prevent ear infections (swimmer’s ear).
About 10 people a day die from drowning in incidents unrelated to boating, according to the Centers for Disease Control. About one in five are 14 or younger, and for every child that drowns, another five are treated in hospital emergency rooms.
The American Red Cross offers swimming lessons and lifeguard instruction throughout the nation. The organization makes the following suggestions for safe swimming:
- Take swimming lessons.
- Never swim alone.
- Never leave a child unattended near water or with another child and no adult.
- Don’t rely on inflatable water wings or toys that can deflate to keep someone afloat; inexperienced swimmers should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets.
- Don’t drink alcohol and swim.
- Don’t swallow the water.
- Don’t swim if you are too hot, too cold or exhausted.
“Our focus is safety,” said Jeff Hall, communications specialist with the Red Cross of Massachusetts. “We encourage people to learn to swim. Drowning is completely preventable.”
Hall said the Red Cross encourages parents to employ these five points when determining if their child is ready to swim. Can they:
- Jump into water that’s over their head?
- Resurface and tread water for a minute?
- Execute a complete circle while treading water?
- Swim at least 25 yards to an exit?
- Get out of the water without using a ladder?
If not, he suggested they get lessons, which are offered throughout the state at public pools, sometimes for free.