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Las Vegas Valley officials warn of drowning risks for children

As many families seek respite from the heat and head to the pool this holiday weekend, officials warn of the increased risk of drowning for children.

Drowning is the No. 1 cause of death for children ages 1 to 4 and is a leading cause of death for teens, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. But local pediatrician Dr. Terence McAllister said parents can take steps to protect their children.

“There are layers of protection,” McAllister said. “It’s not just one thing that will prevent drowning; it’s the safety factors put together that can minimize the risk.”

Constant supervision and swimming lessons are among the preventive measures that apply to any body of water, McAllister said. He said children drown “quickly and quietly,” and if adults become distracted, they will not hear any indication that a child is drowning.

He added that an adult should always be tasked with supervising children who are swimming, and in the case of inexperienced or very young swimmers, an adult should be at arm’s length.

Parents can put their children in swimming lessons starting from ages 1 to 4, McAllister said. While such lessons reduce swimming safety risks, not all families can afford these lessons, he said. Children of color also are at an increased risk of drowning.

Among children ages 11 to 12 years, black children drown in pools at a rate 10 times that of white children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The most important things that can be done are raising awareness of the increased risk and making swimming pools more available,” McAllister said.

Most pool drownings occur when the child is not expected to be there, he said. He added that it is important that pools be secured with fences at least 4 feet tall to prevent children from falling in when unsupervised. In both pools and larger bodies of water, children should not use “floaties” because they can be unreliable, McAllister said.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area spokeswoman Christie Vanover emphasized that children and adults should wear U.S. Coast Guard-certified life jackets when in the lake and not rely on pool flotation devices that can blow away in the wind.

Vanover said holiday weekends usually bring 100,000 to 150,000 visitors to the lake, increasing safety risks. Lake Mead was rated America’s deadliest national park in 2017, but Vanover said there have been no drownings at the lake this year.

In emergency situations, American Red Cross of Nevada and Utah regions spokesman Rich Woodruff said, residents should call 911, but he said it is important to learn how to perform hands -only CPR. Pumping the heart can keep blood circulating until emergency responders arrive, he said.

“We always tell parents to ‘waterproof your kids,’” Woodruff said. “Get them trained on how to swim safely but also get them to be vigilant about the risks.”

Contact Amanda Bradford at abradford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279. Follow @amandabrad_uc on Twitter.

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