Assemblyman Mike Norris (R,C-Lockport) was alarmed to learn that with so many people seeking outdoor recreation during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of cases of drowning were also on the rise – particularly in the Great Lakes. To address this, he has authored important legislation (A.6141) to foster a long-term plan to help more New Yorkers learn to swim.
“Summer is unofficially kicking off this month and there are so many great ways to get out and enjoy the water right here in our district: the Erie Canal, Lake Ontario, and swimming pools. It is an essential life skill to know how to swim, but I have been shocked to learn how few people are prepared,” said Norris. “The goal of my legislation is to help develop a comprehensive statewide plan and to raise awareness so that people, especially at a young age, will be able to learn this lifesaving skill in an easier, more affordable and accessible way across our state to be confident in the water.”
Norris pointed to the tragic drowning of an 18-year-old Lockport High School graduate in 2011, who fell into the water off a dock while fishing with friends along the canal. He was trying to retrieve a fallen fishing pole when he slipped and fell in. He did not know how to swim, nor did any of his friends.
Norris said, “This is a tragedy I hope never happens again. Unfortunately, drowning deaths are up and drowning is still a leading cause of death in young children under the age of 5. But education is key. Teaching people, especially children at a younger age, basic water safety can save their lives and prevent more deaths.”
According to researchers, some of the increase has to do with the COVID-19 pandemic and the “pandemic fatigue” people are feeling. As tired as people are of feeling shut in or of following rules, when they go to the beach or other outdoor places to explore, it is tempting not to follow the rules as posted and take unnecessary risks – especially when there are no lifeguards to enforce them.
In fact, a study of the increase in drowning in lakes Michigan, Ontario and Huron by Ocean and Coastal Management found a direct correlation to drownings spiking when states were reopening from stay-at-home orders. Experts also warn of swimmers overestimating their ability to know how to swim to being a strong enough swimmer to handle the unsparing conditions in the Great Lakes.
To stay safe this summer, Norris recommends swimming near a lifeguard, following all rules and regulations (including wearing personal floatation devices), and designating a water-watcher to keep a steady eye on children near the water’s edge. He also suggests signing up for swim lessons, widely available for infants, children and adults at many community not-for-profits like the YMCA or JCC, through town recreation programs, or many other clubs, sports and fitness centers, and camps.
Norris also hopes that as summer approaches more young people will be inspired to become lifeguards. It is a rewarding job to have that also offers a wide array of valuable skills such as life-saving medical training, leadership and teambuilding skills, and can be a lot of fun. To learn more, or sign up for classes, please contact the American Red Cross at https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class/lifeguarding/lifeguard-training.
Having introduced his new bill, Norris is now working across the aisle with colleagues to garner more support for the initiative and said he hopes that by working together he and his colleagues can enact a measure that will help reduce the number of drownings in our state once and for all.
He said, “That’s what it is all about – helping to save lives. Although accidents will happen, drowning deaths can be prevented in so many instances. I hope my colleagues will join me in moving this important bill forward so that we can put an end to the unnecessary, preventable drownings and teach more New Yorkers the essential life skill of how to swim.”