Swimming lessons must be considered essential to prevent 'senseless drownings,' advocate says


TORONTO — The owner of a local swimming school is urging the provincial government to reconsider swimming lessons as an essential service as Toronto and Peel Region are in a lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Eric Shendelman, president of Shendy’s Swim School Inc. in Toronto and safe-swimming advocate, is expressing his concerns with swimming facilities being forced to shut their doors as the two regions entered a lockdown on Monday for at least 28 days.

He says facilities where they teach swimming lessons, first-aid training and CPR should all be considered essential in order to save lives.

“I know that in the world we lose about 350,000 people every year to drowning and in Canada upwards of 500,” Shendelman told CP24 in an interview on Tuesday night.

“As we get close to winter we still need to be concerned about thin ice on lakes, people drowning from snowmobiles falling in, kids in bathtubs, ponds and streams still accessible to kids that can’t swim, and new Canadians that don’t know how to swim that find their way into water,” he added.

Shendelman’s remarks followed a letter he provided to CP24 expressing his concerns about not being able to provide a life-saving skill.

“I am getting tired of reading about senseless drownings when we can teach people to swim and be safe around water. As a school teacher by trade, these are skills that MUST be taught and recognized as essential or we will continue to hear about these unfortunate and preventable deaths in the news,” Shendelman wrote.

According to the Lifesaving Society’s 2020 Drowning Report, there were 172 water-related fatalities in Ontario in 2017, up from 146 in 2016. Most fatalities occurred in a lake or pond.

Shendelman says swimming facilities need to remain open to continue teaching life-saving skills to children and adults, especially if these facilities are taking the necessary precautions to stop the spread of the virus.

“We have been following all of Toronto Public Health’s guidance as well as the Ministry of Health and the Lifesaving Society. We have limited our capacity, our doors are completely locked, we welcome in families, we screen them all, they’re wearing masks, they’re physically distanced and we’re cleaning and sanitizing on a half hour by half hour basis,” Shendelman said.

In addition, Shendelman noted that the World Health Organization reported that the risk of virus transmission in pools are low.

“For a conventional public or semi-public swimming pool with good hydraulics and filtration, operating within its engineered bathing load, adequate routine disinfection should be achieved with a free chlorine level of 1 mg/l throughout the pool,” the WHO noted in a report released in the summer.

However, swimming facilities are not permitted to open under the fifth and final grey “lockdown” level of the province’s new colour-coded COVID-19 response framework.

Marinas and boating clubs are permitted in lockdown but clubhouses, restaurants, pools, meeting rooms, fitness centres or other recreational facilities on the premises must be closed to the public, with limited exceptions.

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Health says moving regions into lockdown is not a decision the government takes lightly and that the ministry will “continue to closely monitor the evolving situation to advise if and when public health measures need to be adjusted.”

“We must limit opportunities for individuals to have close contact with others to help stop the spread of this virus. These necessary measures are being taken to limit community transmission of COVID-19 in order to keep schools open, safeguard health system capacity, and protect the province’s most vulnerable populations,” the spokesperson told CP24 in an email.

Premier Doug Ford said Toronto and Peel will remain in lockdown until at least Dec. 21 in an effort to reduce virus transmission in those hot zones.


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