Summer is here, and many Thurston County residents are heading to the beach, the pool, or to one of our county’s many beautiful rivers, lakes and streams.
Before you take the plunge, keep in mind some steps to keep you safe.
While the sun is warm, the water is often still very cold. The shock of jumping into cold water can be enough to make muscles stop working — including heart muscles. The huge amount of snow in the mountains and all the rain this winter mean that many rivers are running cold and deep this year, so for now, choose other places to recreate in the water.
Here are some other steps to take to keep your summer in the water a safe one:
▪ Wear a life jacket. Anyone who’s out on a river, lake, open water, or even in a pool without a life guard should wear a life jacket. Infants and children should always wear life jackets.
Other devices intended to help keep people afloat, including noodles or water wings, aren’t reliable. On boats, life jackets for children 12 and younger is the law.
Don’t have a life jacket? There’s a loaner program through Thurston County.
▪ Keep your eye on kids in or near the water. Take turns with other adults, if possible, to avoid fatigue, and stay within easy reach of the kids.
▪ Take swimming lessons to become a better swimmer. Gyms, city classes and YMCAs often offer swimming classes.
▪ Take a CPR class. These are offered periodically through city programs or through the Red Cross, and are a good way to help you be prepared for a variety of emergencies.
▪ Don’t drink or take drugs while participating in water activities. Alcohol, marijuana and other drugs make it harder for people to recognize danger and react quickly.
One of the choices you can make to have a safer swimming season is to choose places to swim where there’s a lifeguard. Lifeguards are trained to look for signs of drowning, and they know what to do when someone is in trouble. The truth is, unless you know what to look for, drowning can sometimes go unnoticed.
Unlike on television, where a drowning person might kick and scream, in real life a drowning person is often quiet. They’re struggling too hard to stay above the water to kick or yell. They might stretch out their arms, or bob up and down, which can look almost calm, or even like playing. Time is of the essence to a drowning person, and having a professional lifeguard watching the water and acting as backup to alert adults can make a big difference.
If you have any cuts or open wounds and want to swim, bandage them well, and if you can, cover the bandage with waterproof tape. For the sake of community health, and out of respect for other swimmers, don’t go in the water at all if you’ve been sick with vomiting or diarrhea.
Choose a place to swim that you’re familiar with, and do research. Algae blooms happen in local lakes and along our shorelines, and sometimes these algae can produce toxins that make people and pets sick. Check the Thurston County Swimming Advisory page before you hit the local lake or beach.
Once you’re prepared, it’s time to pack up your picnic basket, water bottles and safe sunscreen and go out to play in the water. But while you’re out having fun, remember these steps to make it a safer summer.
Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.