Drownings decreased in Virginia in 2020, but what’s happening in 2021?

Virginia News

Lifeguard Mackenzie Jones and a husband and wife saved a man from drowning in this Hanover subdivision pool. (Photo: 8News Reporter Sabrina Shutters)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Drowning is the leading cause of death in children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But in Virginia, drowning deaths in children age 9 and younger have decreased since 2019.

According to the Associated Press, the number of drownings in 2021 in places like the Great Lakes have already surpassed the numbers recorded in 2020. But seven months into the new year, Virginia is still behind what was recorded during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) recorded 114 drownings in 2020, up from 106 in 2019. But as of July 6, 2021, there have been 42 drownings statewide — 39 accidental, two suicides, and one undetermined.

“Based on the numbers, COVID-19 really didn’t have an impact on the overall totals,” VDH Statewide Forensic Epidemiologist Kathrin “Rosie” Hobron, MPH, said. “We have drowning deaths all year long (both indoor and outdoor drownings), but they are more frequent in the late spring through end of summer when the pools are open and people are at the river/lake/ocean when it’s hot outside.”

In 2019, 11 children between the ages of 1 and 4 lost their lives in a drowning incident. In 2020, that number decreased to 5. So far in 2021, one child in that age group has drowned in Virginia. But the numbers could change as the year goes on.

This data, provided to 8News by VDH, shows that more Virginians drowned in 2020 than in 2019.

“It might appear that there are a lower number this year compared to last, but that’s most likely because we have pending cases that are yet-to-be certified and thus, are not counted in the 2021 totals,” Hobron said. “Death investigations and certification are not an instantaneous process and may take weeks to certify, depending on the type of death.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), children, males and individuals with increased access to water are most at risk of drowning. A 2014 global report on drowning showed that age was one of the major risk factors for drowning, a relationship that is often associated with a lapse in supervision.

Although the number of suicidal drownings throughout the Commonwealth decreased from 2019 to 2020, the number of accidental drownings increased. From 2019 to 2020, VDH reported that there were three more drownings in the 20-24 age range, four more drownings in the 25-34 age range and eight more drownings in the 45-54 age range.

So far, the number of Virginians who lost their lives in a drowning incident in any age range this year has not surpassed what VDH recorded in 2020. As note above, the data for 2021 is preliminary and subject to change.

In order to prevent drowning incidents, the CDC recommends barriers such as pool fencing to prevent young children from gaining access to a pool area without their caregivers’ awareness. The agency said that a four-sided isolation fence separating the pool area from the house and yard reduces a child’s risk of drowning by 83%, compared to three-sided property-line fencing that encloses the entire yard but does not separate the pool from the house.

The CDC also advised that not wearing life jackets, using drugs and prescription medications and drinking alcohol can contribute to drownings. In fact, the U.S. Coast Guard reported 613 boating-related deaths in 2019 — 79% of these deaths were drowning-related, and of those who died from drowning, 86% were not wearing life jackets.

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