Christopher Gilbert
Christopher Gilbert, 26, was left fighting for his life after co-workers pushed him into a lake, despite him not knowing how to swim
Drowning deaths are on the rise for the first time in decades, which officials call an 'urgent' public health issue.

Figures released Tuesday by the CDC found that rates of accidental drowning increased by nearly 30 percent from 2020 to 2022, the latest data available.

The rates were also highest in racial and ethnic minorities, with deaths highest in American Indians and increasing by over a quarter in black Americans.

The CDC also revealed that more than half of Americans have never had a formal swim lesson, and one in three black adults don't know how to swim.

The grim report serves as further evidence of pandemic lockdowns disadvantaging vulnerable groups such as black and Hispanic Americans, as the researchers blamed pools shutting down during Covid and a shortage of swim instructors.

The researchers noted that the findings come at a 'crucial' time just ahead of summer, when more Americans will be headed to their local pool.

They also were released just days after a medical student in Louisiana nearly drowned and was left fighting for his life after being pushed into a lake by his co-workers, despite him not knowing how to swim.

Dr Debra Houry, Chief Medical Officer at the CDC, told reporters at a Tuesday press briefing: 'It can happen to anyone any time water is present.'

'Preventative measures such as basic swimming and water safety skills training can reduce the risk of drowning. This kind of training is critical.'

The data is part of the latest CDC Vital Signs report, which looked at rates of accidental drownings from all sources. These include pools, bathtubs, and open bodies of water like lakes.

Dr Houry noted that despite decades of decreases, drowning rates increased by 28 percent from 2020 to 2022.

In 2019, there were 4,067 accidental drowning deaths, and every year available after that, there were over 4,500. The highest total so far was in 2021, with 4,677 deaths.

American Indian and Alaska natives had the highest rates of drowning, though Dr Houry said there was no significant increase during the study period.

However, drowning deaths for black Americans, the second-highest group, increased by 28 percent.

In 2022, there were 4,509 drowning deaths total, and 780 of those were in black people.

Additionally, one third of black Americans reported not knowing how to swim, and two-thirds said they never had a formal swim lesson.

Three out of four Hispanic adults also said they never had swim lessons.

'It is concerning that there are increases in rates in some of these groups that were already disparately impacted,' Dr Houry said.

However, she noted that accidental drowning is most common in children ages one to four, and this is the number one cause of death among this age group.

Dr Houry and Dr Tessa Clemens, a health scientist in the CDC's Division of Injury Prevention, said that this increase starting in 2020 could be due to public pools shutting down during the pandemic, as well as a shortage of swim instructors.

They also noted that swim lessons can be expensive and pose financial burdens on minorities and those in rural areas.

Dr Houry said that the CDC is funding programs at the American Red Cross and YMCA to help lower the cost of lessons and make sure they are more accessible 'because it's so important to have that equitable access.'

The researchers recommended that young children be exposed to water as early as possible, and swim lessons should start between ages one to four. Even after those children learn to swim, the team recommended parents pay close attention to them while they are in the water.

'These are lives, not numbers,' Dr Houry said.