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.

Early Data Shows Swim School Safety Precautions Working

The United States Swim School Association recently surveyed members to get a picture of how many students are currently in lessons and what health and safety precautions have been put in place. The results so far have been positive and could point to swim schools being a safer child activity option.

Based on our recent survey of our swim school membership, 38,398 students have been swimming weekly for an average of 4 weeks. Those schools have had 1,959 staff currently working. While there have been 43 cases of COVID-19 positive exposures within swim school facilities, NOT ONE case has been traced back to a swim school.

We are finding that while students or staff may contract COVID-19 outside of the school, from family members or attending a party with friends, they are not found to be passing it along to those they have come in contact with while at the swim school before they knew they were positive. It would seem the health and safety precautions swim schools have put in place have been working.

Here is what we know from our members about actions they are taking.

Swim Lesson Styles Currently Being Offered
Many schools are offering more private swim lessons.

  • private | 88.24%
  • parent and baby lessons | 56.86%
  • semi-private to kids in same family | 48.04%
  • group with 3 – 4 students | 46.08%
  • semi-private with 2 students | 41.18%
  • camp style lessons meeting more than once a week | 11.76%
  • group lesson larger than 4 students | 5.88%
  • group lessons with parent in water (even for older students) | 5.88%

Type of Facilities Being Used for Swim Lessons Currently
Many of our members operate in indoor facilities. Members’ professional, year-round water safety instructional programs are housed in unique environments with the highest quality AIR/HVAC systems. Indoor swimming pools need a higher level of circulation to protect the buildings they exist in. Pools that are dedicated to instruction (and training) have superb ventilation systems by necessity. If they didn’t, then the building the pools are housed in would be eaten up by the humidity. Most pools turn over the air in a few hours, minimally, and a lot of pools can introduce up to 100% fresh air into the pool room by adjusting HVAC set points, drastically cutting down on the air turnover time. The air quality in an indoor pool can be significantly better than the air quality of a supermarket.

  • indoor, you own or lease the pool and it’s used only for swim lessons | 52.38%
  • outdoor, you own or lease pool and it’s used only for swim lessons | 26.67%
  • indoor, you lease or rent pool water and pool has other uses | 18.10%
  • outdoor, you lease or rent pool water and pool has other uses | 13.33%
  • outdoor, you travel to backyard or community type pools to offer swim lessons | 13.33%
  • other | 4.76%

Current Health and Safety Precautions Being Used by Swim Schools
The swim school business is all about safety. Providing safety instruction in a carefully managed and safe environment is all they do, and even outside of COVID-19, they do everything and anything they possibly can to keep the children in their care safe. They are stewards of safety; it is in our DNA and a key value of this association. Thus many swim schools have gone above and beyond CDC, state and local guidance. Please note as you review this list that facilities and areas of the country are experiencing different levels of risk. Not all precautions listed will work for all swim school communities.

  • come in and leave in swimsuit | 83.96%
  • all staff on deck, lobby, office wear cloth masks | 82.08%
  • staff temperature checks at start of shift | 81.13%
  • all customers wear cloth masks in building | 77.36%
  • all staff wear face shields in water | 72.64%
  • less classes in the pool at one time | 71.70%
  • hand sanitizer use required upon entry to the building | 70.75%
  • only one adult allowed in building with child | 70.75%
  • reduced class sizes for first opening phase | 66.04%
  • 6 ft markers on flooring | 65.09%
  • one way in and one way out of the building | 62.26%
  • customer health questionnaire posted at entrance to the building | 57.55%
  • closing locker rooms/changing rooms | 57.55%
  • staff health questionnaire at start of each shift | 55.66%
  • customer temperature checks as they enter the building | 52.83%
  • Plexiglas shield installed at customer service desk | 41.51%
  • private lessons only | 38.68%
  • staggered start times for classes | 38.68%
  • customer health questionnaire completed by each person prior to entering the building | 28.30%
  • other | 20.38%

Swim School Instruction Operates in Chlorinated Water Which Deactivates the COVID Virus
Per the CDC there has been no evidence of transmission of the COVID-19 virus in a pool. Participants and instructors are literally submerged in disinfecting (chlorinated) water many times during instruction. Many swim school pools go beyond standard pool hygiene code, adding extra UV light disinfection to pools for enhanced purity. Swim schools also typically go above and beyond the state laws to check and record pool chlorine levels, checking as much as four times a day to as often as every hour.

We are all needing to make tough choices as we navigate this pandemic as a community. Learning to swim is an essential life skill. One that is a vital layer of drowning prevention. It’s also an activity affording some great cognitive and physical benefits to children, a subject we will cover in more detail on a future post. In a time when activities are limited, learning to swim may be a great option for your family. We will continue to monitor best practices, guidance and data to allow our swim school members to make informed decisions to operate as safely as they are able.


UPDATE 9-25-2020:

Based on our recent survey of our membership, 41,982 students have been swimming weekly for an average of 3 months with 2,612 staff members currently working at swim schools.

While according to our survey there have been 99 cases of COVID-19 positive exposures within swim school facilities there have only been two case traced to a swim school, with zero students impacted.

Schools feel their health protocols are working and overall 85% feel they have an exceptional or very good culture of compliance.

All staff on deck, lobby, office wear cloth masks is now the leading health measure at 90%, followed by staff temperature checks at the start of each shift at 84%. Only one adult in the building with a child is at 82% and all customers wearing cloth masks in the building is at 79%.