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What should be done to prevent more drownings in Mass.? Let us know.

What response do you want to see from state and city officials?

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

A 17-year-old drowned in the Squannacook River in Groton Wednesday, the latest in a string of drownings in Massachusetts this year.

Nearly 30 of those deaths occurred in two months, according to The Boston Globe.

As vaccinations increase and the high temperatures continue, people are seeking relief by vacationing at the beach or taking a swim at local ponds and rivers. But the shortage of lifeguards and swimming instructors, and more than a year of missed swimming lessons at local pools and YMCAs, have left many unprepared.

“We are concerned about the drownings, we are concerned about the fact that the tragic situation is both for minors and adults within our local communities,” President and CEO at YMCA of Central Massachusetts David Connell said. 

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Some communities have allocated resources to protect open-water swimmers and prevent more drownings. Brockton police cruisers are now equipped with life preservers and rope, and free swimming lessons are being offered by the city for those ages 13 to 20 after a push from swimming advocates. On Salisbury Beach, more lifeguards will be on duty every day instead of just on the weekends.

Drowning happens in seconds and is often silent. More children ages 1 to 4 die from drowning than any other cause of death except birth defects, according to the CDC.

Last year, YMCA locations closed and then slowly reopened to 50 percent capacity. Connell said the pandemic created more opportunities for accidents to happen because fewer families trained in water safety this year. 

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Some of Connell’s recommendations for best practices when swimming include never swimming alone, only swimming in locations where a lifeguard is on duty, and making sure children are within arm’s reach of other individuals in the water. He said children should not try to hold their breath for a long amount of time while swimming, and should always be wearing a coast guard approved life jacket. 

“The key piece is to have swimming lessons available and also refresher lessons available to help support water safety. And we would like all of our participants and everyone to really feel comfortable and confident around water,” Connell said.

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The state proposed higher fines on those swimming where they shouldn’t and temporarily banned open water swimming at popular Walden Pond in Concord, but many residents have criticized the response. Open-water swimmers say the ban on swimming infringes upon their basic rights, and some questioned whether the increased fines, up to $500, would deter people from swimming in unsupervised waters.

Connell said allocating more funding for outreach programs, swim lessons, and community resources could ease some concerns.

“I think anything to do with the city, nonprofit, and public working hand in hand together will continue to be helpful. It certainly doesn’t solve the situation, but it certainly would help to prevent some challenges that we are faced with every summer. And not just this summer,” Connell said.

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We want to know what our readers think of the recent string of drownings. What response do you want to see from state and city officials? What do you think are the best practices when swimming in Massachusetts’ open waters? Let us know below or e-mail us at [email protected].

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