GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Fifty-seven people have drowned in Lake Michigan so far in 2020, making it the deadliest year on the lake in at least a decade.
The data was compiled by the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, which has tracked drownings on the lakes since 2010 and works to prevent them.
Twenty-one of the Lake Michigan deaths happened in Michigan, 23 in Illinois, seven in Indiana and six in Wisconsin. The total of 57 is more than twice as many drownings as in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Dave Benjamin of GLSRP said he thinks the pandemic is part of the reason for the increase, encouraging more people to go outdoors and to the beaches.
“Chicago beaches were closed, which pushed a lot of people to go to Indiana or Michigan if they wanted to go to the beach,” he said in a Tuesday Zoom interview with News 8. “A lot of beaches don’t have lifeguards, especially in Michigan. It just kind of created the perfect storm of opportunity for drownings to happen: more people going in the water, crowded beaches.”
He said lifeguards are a must in preventing drownings, and that schools should include water safety courses.
“It’s a problem. It’s a public health issue,” Benjamin said. “It is 100% preventable if we prevent it as a culture to make water safety a priority, like fire safety or tornado safety or school safety issue. We have all those water programs in schools but we have very little water safety education. It’s more likely that each year, more students will die drowning in the United States than by fires, tornadoes, school shooters or even earthquakes; some schools have earthquake drills in the Great Lakes region.”
The GLSRP is working to turn its water safety course into an e-learning format so that schools can teach it more easily. It accepts donations online.