COVID-19 Impact on Private Swim Schools

3-22-2021

It has been quite a year and as we reflect back, the United States Swim School Association took some time to learn from our members the impact this past year has had on their ability to teach swimming.

While about three months was the average time our member swim schools were closed, we still have a handful of schools that remain closed. Those still closed are located in California, Hawaii, Toronto, as well as Arizona, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and Florida. Some closures are a result of the location of the pool space used by a member, in other words if the location where they held lessons is not open, they have not been able to resume lessons.

One of the most alarming numbers to come out of our survey is the fact that more than 77,500 kids are no longer getting swim lessons. With about 1/3 of our members completing the survey, the actual total is much higher. It does bring to question, what the future holds for drowning rates across the country. Drowning is already the number one cause of accidental death for children 1 to 4 and a leading cause for older youth.

Why are so many not back at lessons? Over 60 percent of schools are still operating at reduced capacities, meaning less lessons are available. We are also seeing a trend among swim schools trying to rebuild and hire new staff. Staff shortages will make it more challenging to rebuild back up to pre-COVID lesson levels.

Schools have also noticed over this last year a significant increase in newly enrolled swimmers. Over 40 percent are seeing 21 – 40 percent of their enrollments coming from new swimmers and nearly 20 percent are seeing 41 – 60 percent new swimmers. We can speculate that as parents looked to find a safer activity for their children, they learned about the safety measures in place at private swim schools, the CDC statement that the virus has not been spread in chlorinated pools and that the air ventilation rates are some of the best for indoor spaces.

Over this past year private swim schools needed to get creative with almost 15 percent offering shorter lessons, but only about half of them are planning to keep the change in place in the future. This year also found an increase in private lessons with nearly 93% offering private lessons. While more than half made no changes to their private lesson rates, a majority of those that did make a change had to increase their rates. Members also added new programs this past year including family swim, swim team, aqua fitness and home lessons. New technology was also added this year including Zoom meetings, check-in kiosks, an app for parents and SpotTV for lesson viewing outside the building.

There were a number of COVID-19 safety protocols added this year, the most popular right now is all staff wearing cloth masks outside the water, all staff wearing face shields in the water and all customers wearing cloth masks in the building. Staff temperature checks at the start of their shift also remains high on the list along with only allowing one adult in the building with the swimmer. We asked our members if there were any of these protocols they planned on keeping in the future, with the top choices being hand sanitizer used upon entry to the building and staggered start times for classes. There are also almost 23% that plan to continue use of the face shields in the water by instructors.

Consistent with earlier surveys, there continues to be almost ZERO cases of COVID-19 being traced to swim schools. With over 53,500 students, instructors and staff involved in weekly swim lessons there have been only 8 cases or 0.014% traced to a swim school.

Swim school owners are resourceful and passionate small business owners. They are working hard each day to serve their communities and offer the lifesaving skill of swimming. They will continue to learn and work to rebuild into an even better swim school than a year ago and USSSA is here to support them every step of the way.

You can review our full survey report here.

And if you are interested in starting a career in learn to swim, you can find our job board here.

Learning to Swim Deemed Essential in California

We are pleased to announce that drowning prevention classes, including swim lessons have been deemed essential by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).

“Drowning prevention classes, including swim lessons with certified instructors, are permitted in indoor and outdoor swimming pools in all tiers, as they are deemed essential.” [1]

This designation will help greatly in the continued mission to prevent drownings in the state of California. Learning to swim, as part of a multilayer drowning prevention plan, is a critical tool as demonstrated by a study conducted in 2009 showing formal swim lessons between the ages of 1 and 4 can help reduce the risk of drowning by 88%.[2]

Each year in California literally hundreds of children suffer drowning incidents, and for every fatal drowning there are five other drowning incidents ending in resuscitation of the drowning victim that then results in brain injury due to hypoxia.

We understand and accept the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic requires the state and local health departments to be vigilant for all of us, to flatten the curve and prevent the continuation of COVID’s hold on the landscape. Leaders and partners in the drowning prevention community, including the California Coalition for Children’s Safety and Health (CCCSH) leadership agree that drowning prevention is just as important and can be done safely, even during this pandemic. Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death for the one to four-year-old population, and one of the leading causes of unintentional death for the teen and youth population.[3]

As we work together to reduce the spread of COVID-19, we must also continue to carry out public health activities that prevent children from dying or being permanently harmed by preventable unintentional injuries such as drowning. We cannot and should not ignore the importance of drowning prevention as an essential public health need and we applaud leadership at the CADPH for recognizing this and deeming drowning prevention, including swim lessons as essential.

Our plan is to work with our volunteers and experts to continue to educate leadership in other states to follow suit, make drowning prevention, including learning to swim, essential in every state in the country.

USSSA has developed tools and resources to make learning to swim as safe as possible during COVID-19, including:

  • Creation of a uniform manual, USSSA Action Plan 2.1, based on the Center for Disease Control (CDC) protocols to provide guidance for swim schools to open and continue to provide critical water safety and drowning prevention for children while maintaining everyone’s health and safety.
  • Surveys of USSSA member swim schools operating across the country, with our most recent survey showing nearly 44,600 students and staff participating in swim lessons for an average of three months with no COVID-19 transmissions to students in the facility, thus demonstrating that the numerous health and safety measures put in place by swim schools are working.
  • Uncovering important information from industry experts on the ways ventilation for indoor pools are far superior at minimizing virus transmission than most indoor spaces.

 

[1] https://covid19.ca.gov/stay-home-except-for-essential-needs/

[2] Association Between Swimming Lessons and Drowning in Childhood, A Case-Control Study: Ruth Brenner, et al., 2009 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4151293/

[3] https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/campaigns/drowning-prevention/Pages/default.aspx

 

Full Press Release from USSSA: https://www.usswimschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/California-Essentail-12-2020-FINAL.pdf

Learning to Swim is Essential

Learning to swim is a life-or-death skill, essential for every child.  Formal swim lessons between ages 1 and 4 can help reduce the risk of drowning by 88% according to a study conducted in 2015.[1] Drowning is the number one cause of unintentional injury death for children ages 1 to 4 and a leading cause for young people up to 14 years of age.[2]  A young child can drown in less than 2 inches of water.[3]

The risk of drowning is a public health risk and childhood established swimming skills are one of the integral drowning prevention strategies identified by national drowning prevention communities and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that ALL children learn to swim as early as age 1. [4] Removing access to water safety and swimming lessons inherently puts children more at risk of drowning.

Furthermore, private indoor swim school businesses that are operating are doing so without a single outbreak of COVID (or any other respiratory pathogen).[5] According to the CDC, a properly maintained swimming pool should inactivate the virus.[6] Indoor swimming pools are required to have a very high ventilation rate to assist in removing the byproducts of the chlorine that is added to the pool water, which means an indoor pool area will have the highest air turn-over and most fresh air of any other space within that building. Additionally reducing air velocity is important in indoor pools to reduce evaporation, however it turns out that reducing air velocity also helps minimize the spread of airborne pathogens.

USSSA member swim schools are following the USSSA COVID Action Plan based on CDC guidelines to even further reduce the risk of COVID transmission while attending lessons at a swim school and working to create the safest environment possible.

This infographic (with photo pre-COVID) explains the facts of drowning and the benefits of learning to swim. Learning to swim is a lifesaving skill, essential to the health and development of children.

   

 

[1] Association Between Swimming Lessons and Drowning in Childhood, A Case-Control Study: Ruth Brenner, et al., 2015 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4151293/

[2] https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/campaigns/drowning-prevention/Pages/default.aspx

[3] https://downloads.aap.org/DOPA/Drowning-Prevention/is_your_baby_crawling_english.pdf

[4] https://www.healthychildren.org/English/news/Pages/Updated-Recommendations-to-Prevent-Drowning-in-Children.aspx

[5] https://www.usswimschools.org/2020/07/early-data-shows-swim-school-safety-precautions-working/

[6] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/parks-rec/aquatic-venues.html

Let’s Talk Air & What Makes Learning to Swim a Great Low Risk Activity Choice

We’ve established that viruses such as COVID-19 are not shown to be transmitted in properly maintained pool water.[1] So let’s talk about the air surrounding the pool. Many learn to swim programs are conducted indoors allowing for year-round instruction to build and maintain skills. After talking with industry experts we’ve uncovered some interesting information on ways ventilation for indoor pools is far superior at minimizing virus transmission than most indoor spaces.

Keith Coursin is the President of Desert Aire. He has served on several ventilation committees including the CDC’s Model Aquatic Health Code Committee. He shared that mechanical engineers use the ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 62.1-2020 Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality to determine how much ventilation air the dehumidification equipment must be designed for an indoor pool. When looking at the standard, indoor swimming pools are required to have a very high ventilation rate. It’s been designed this way to help remove byproducts of the chlorine used to maintain the pool water. Keith shared this comparison of the ventilation rate:

Indoor pool ventilation is:

  • 8 times more than an office space
  • 4 times more than an elementary classroom
  • 2.6 times more than a science laboratory

Keith said, “in fact, there is no other building type listed in the standard that comes close to the required ventilation rate of an indoor pool.” So what does all this mean? The air you find at an indoor pool is better ventilated than many other indoor spaces you will be in.

In this great video below, the aquatics engineering experts at Counsilman Hunsaker share that for years, designers have been exploring ways to increase air turnover, minimize air velocity and introduce fresh air to handle the air requirements to maintain indoor pools. They confirm, as Keith stated, that the indoor pool area will have the highest air turn-over and most fresh air of any other space within that building. Additionally reducing air velocity is important in indoor pools to reduce evaporation, however it turns out that reducing air velocity also helps minimize the spread of airborne pathogens. Research has also shown that relative humidity between 40-60% is ideal to create a healthy indoor space and minimize the spread of airborne viruses.[2] Indoor pools are designed with HVAC systems to maintain proper humidity levels.

Proper health protocols that swim schools have in place are still an important way to help prevent the spread of viruses. That said, it’s great to learn that these environments, by their design, have the ability to minimize the spread of airborne viruses. If you are looking for an activity to get your kids out of the house for some exercise and social interaction, learning to swim can be a great lower risk choice. Your child will also be learning a lifesaving skill making it a win-win all around! We hope to see you at the pool soon!

 

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/parks-rec/aquatic-venues.html

[2] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/08/200820102503.htm; https://www.sylvane.com/blog/higher-indoor-humidity-prevents-flu/

Benefits for Young Children Learning to Swim Goes Beyond Swim Skills

Learning to swim is not only a lifesaving skill but one with some additional benefits. According to a 2009 study conducted by Robyn Jorgensen current at University of Canberra, children under the age of five who participate in swim lessons achieve a wide range of skills earlier than the normal population.

While some skills you would expect to see increase with swim lessons, such as better balance and coordination, children in swim lessons also showed social and cognitive development as much as 15 months ahead of the normal population.

Young swimmers in the study were found to understand direction better, which helps them be better prepared to respond to teachers as they move into the classroom. They were also more comfortable interacting with their peers, as well as adults who were not their caregivers.

Learning to swim at a young age can also help children develop deeper usage of language. They are exposed to important speech elements and useful concepts like shapes and colors. As they continue to work in swim lessons with new words, it can improve their own use of language.

The increased cognitive development found in young swimmers are the building blocks for skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic, setting the stage for lifelong learning.

And if being smarter and better prepared for the school years was not a great enough benefit, swimming is also good for the health and development of a growing body. Swimming uses all parts of the body for development of gross motor skills. And we can’t forget to share with parents one of the best benefits swimming can offer, improved quality of sleep. Yes, learning to swim is both fun and a great way to help tire out those little ones by burning off some energy.

Swimming lessons are a great choice for young children to teach them a lifesaving skill as well as set the stage for lifelong learning.