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Diving into the state of swim access in CT

Hartford children cool off from the summer heat in the public pool at Colt Park.
Tyler Russell
Connecticut Public
FILE: Hartford children cool off from the summer heat in the public pool at Colt Park.

As the summer heat intensifies, some Connecticut residents may have a hard time finding a pool to cool off.

The City of New Haven announced only one public pool will be open in a city of 140,000 residents.

Oscar Rodriguez, director of aquatics at a nonprofit called LEAP in New Haven, said that’s due in part to pool maintenance issues and costs.

Rodriguez told Connecticut Public’s "Where We Live" that the pool shortage could also be contributing to the shortage of qualified lifeguards.

“They need to be at least 15 years old and be able to swim continuously, which kind of makes sort of a whole reference to like a snake eating its tail, because if there's no pools open, then kids can't really practice their swimming skills,” Rodriguez said.

Some communities have found it easier to invest in splash pads, he said, since they don’t require lifeguards or knowing how to swim.

Swim lessons save lives

As officials investigate several recent deaths on Connecticut waterways in Bridgeport, Madison, Oxford and elsewhere, drownings have been on the rise nationally.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 500 more people a year have died drowning since the COVID-19 pandemic, when many pools closed for social distancing. The CDC also found groups already at higher risk are seeing the biggest rise in drowning deaths nationally: children age 1 to 4 , adults aged 65 and older, Black people of all ages.

But, the CDC concluded that making swimming lessons accessible can save lives.

Rodriguez, who helps run an aquatics program in New Haven, said there are several swim safety skills people should master.

  • Treading water - “The skill to stay in one place while you're trying to hold a conversation with someone in deep water, or just even to get your bearings, is very important,” he said.
  • Swimming laps - “At least be able to swim three to four laps in your pool,” he said.
  • Propelling from the bottom - “If you do go to the bottom, [know how to] get yourself back up.”
  • Getting in and out - “Jumping in, turning around and getting yourself out of a pool if you need to” is crucial, according to Rodriguez.

Drowning is the number one cause of death for children under the age of 5 nationally, the CDC says, and drowning rates are highest among this age group. However, recent data from Connecticut’s Office of the Child Advocate, the state’s welfare watchdog for minors, found that child drownings in the state are lower than the national average.

Learn more: Listen to the full "Where We Live," episode, "How do we create more accessible and affordable housing in Connecticut?" which features a discussion on public pools.

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