PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — The demand for backyard pools and boats has sky-rocketed as families have looked for safe forms of entertainment during the pandemic. Now, there's another epidemic that experts fear is on the rise: childhood drowning.
There is a push to get kids back in the water and learning how to swim, even amid a pandemic.
It's lesson after lesson now for "Ms. Allie" in Loxahatchee. Within the last month, Allison Clowes said more and more parents have started coming back for swim lessons with their kids.
"I've gotten a lot of emails," she said.
Clowes taught throughout the pandemic but noted the initial hesitancy among some.
"We live in Florida and we're surrounded by water, and it only takes a few seconds for a child to drown," she said. "When it all first started, everybody was kind of in lockdown and I was like, 'Those babies still need to learn, you know?' We still have ponds in our backyards and canals and that won't go away. I just tell people, 'You never know.' It happens to the best of parents. It only takes a few seconds."
Mothers like Cady Bond felt it was important to continue.
"You can't possibly watch them every second. You're going to turn away at some point," she said. "I feel more comfortable knowing that if someone calls my name, I looked back and she jumped in, that she would be OK for those couple seconds for me to react."
Jackie Huddleston's toddler is also back in the water.
"Even if there is a pandemic going around, the kids are still going to want to swim. Can't really stop it," she said. "I definitely need him swimming, especially with my newborn. I have my hands full."
Many parents said the cost of swim lessons is what keeps them from starting it. One local organization, the Live Like Jake Foundation, is working to change that and said it is more important than ever now.
"Sadly, in Florida, this year alone, as of April 1, we have lost 19 children to a drowning, which is a lot of children," Keri Morrison, the executive director of the Live Like Jake Foundation, said. "It's 19 too many, and it's much higher than it was last year."
Morrison lost her son, Jake, to a drowning death in 2013 and has made it her mission to help children learn how to swim. The foundation provides scholarships for ISR self-rescue swim lessons for families that cannot afford them. They just opened an indoor swim facility in Palm Beach Gardens for year-round lessons.
"Please do not have the mindset that it cannot happen to you," she said. "When my girls, and even when Jake was little, they nicknamed me the helicopter parent. I was always right on top of Jake."
She's now making a plea to parents, who may have delayed or stopped swim lessons.
"We're seeing the rise in numbers because people are putting off the swim lessons," she said. "I can't say it enough. Don't put it off. Please enroll your child."
Morrison's advice is to make sure the instructor is masked and following CDC guidelines.
"I believe with the masks and the chlorine that the risk is extremely low to catch COVID, but the risk, you know, for your child to drown is extremely high," Morrison said.
Stephanie Gardiner said it's a weight off her shoulders during an already stressful time.
"Huge peace of mind," she said. "When I see him flip over and float, it just fills my heart, because I see that he's confident and he's safe."
To apply for a swim scholarship with the Live Like Jake Foundation, visit the website.