Ahead of full reopening, water advocates urge safety for Lakefront beach-goers

Chicago News

CHICAGO —  It’s finally here: Illinois will move to Phase 5 of the pandemic recovery plan, the final phase of the “Restore Illinois” on Friday, June 11, Gov. JB Pritzker announced Thursday.

With Illinois on the verge of a full reopening, beach safety is a top priority for city officials. Last year was the deadliest year on record for drownings in Lake Michigan. City officials have come together to focus on drowning prevention as 22 beaches up and down the Lakefront continues to attract locals and tourists.

Today, Chicago Park District and Lurie Children’s hosted a news conference to stress safety tips for swim season, in addition to discussing the work of the Drowning Prevention Action Plan (DPAP).

Melaney Baird with the Chicago Park District says communication could be the difference between life and death.

“Ask a lifeguard where the drop-offs are at whatever beach you visit,” Baird said. “And know the green, yellow and red system.”

The green, yellow, red system breakdown is as followed:

  • Green – Lifeguard is on duty; all good to go.
  • Yellow – Surf and weather conditions and water quality may be of concern, but swimming is still permitted.
  • Red – No swimming allowed.

“The red flag means out of there are no lifeguards on duty. The water quality isn’t safe. The surf conditions aren’t safe, or the weather conditions aren’t safe,” Baird said.

Each year 4,000 Americans drown.

In 2020, 53 people lost their lives on Lake Michigan – making it the deadliest year on record. According to the World Health Organization, drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide.

Wednesday night, a 36-year-old man fell into the water at 63rd Street. After being pulled by divers with the Chicago Fire Department, he was rushed to the University of Chicago hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

“Primary prevention is really key,” says Dr. Michelle Macy, an emergency room doctor at Lurie Children’s Hospital. Adults must remain vigilant of their own surroundings, she says, as well as keeping an eye on kids in the water.

“My worst days on the job are days when I experienced a situation where I have to tell the family that their child didn’t make it or that their child is going to be lifelong impacted by an injury,” Macy said. “Drowning is one of those circumstances where we know we can prevent that type of injury.”

Something to think about as beach-goers hit the water this summer along Chicago’s beautiful Lakefront.

“Other than that,” Macy says, “let’s have a fun, safe summer.”

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