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Staying Safe and Healthy During a Summer Like No Other

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Summer calls to us in New Brunswick like no other season.

That's because - in our part of the world - we know that summer is fleeting, an opportunity intended to be embraced to the fullest.

That blissful stretch that runs from Canada Day through to Labour Day offers only the shortest of windows to soak up what our beautiful province has to offer while the weather still allows us to.

It goes by in a flash, with those long, hot, hazy days giving way to the evening chill of fall before we know it.

And given that novelty, it's important to experience as much of the season as we can, squeezing in as many activities into our itineraries as humanly possible.

But with the arrival of COVID-19, summer in New Brunswick is also going to look and feel quite a bit different.

The ongoing threat of the virus means that idea of heading to a crowded beach or park may not be as appealing as it was in the past.

Where there are challenges, there is also opportunity. And if New Brunswickers are prepared and take the necessary precautions, there's no reason why we can't enjoy everything summer has to offer here in our home province.

There's arguably been no better time to get out in search of new experiences and rediscovering all our province has to offer, reminding ourselves why we live here in the first place.

But before people dive headfirst into summer, it's important to pause and remember the importance of doing it safely - because where there's intense heat, harmful UV rays, swarms of insects and open water, there's also danger.

With that in mind, we've prepared some helpful hints and tips that will help you get the most out of summer.

Summer Safety EN - July 10 2020

Sun safety

While it's important for everyone to take the necessary precautions whenever heading outside for some fun in the sun, it's especially critical for children.

Babies are most susceptible to the risks of exposure to the sun, not just because of their sensitive skin but also because they can't tell you if they're too hot or if the sun is too bright.

Depending on the time of day, conditions and the level of ultraviolet radiation - or UV rays - it only takes 15 minutes or so to develop a sunburn.

The UV Index is a helpful tool to protect yourself from the sun. It can be easily accessed on any weather service website and the general rule of thumb is the higher the number, the higher the risk.

It's also important to remember that skin cancer is - by far - the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in our country, about one in every three cancer diagnoses, and rates are continuing to rise steadily every year.

Remember - THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A HEALTHY TAN. Unprotected sun exposure causes skin and eye damage, premature aging of the skin, and a weakened immune system. Overexposure to the sun as a child can also lead to the development of skin cancer later in life.

Your best defence against the sun is to apply a quality, broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 or more 15 minutes before going outside and re-applying at regular intervals throughout the day.

Wearing a wide-brimmed hat and loose-fitting, lightweight clothing and a pair of sunglasses equipped with UVA and AVB protection are all good precautions to take as well. 

Your skin - which is your body's largest organ - will thank you later!

Here are a few more tips to keep you and your child sun safe this season (Source: Health Canada, Canadian Cancer Society):

  • Use a water-resistant sunscreen and remember to re-apply more frequently if you're swimming, drying yourself off with a towel or sweating heavily.
  • Remember to apply sunscreen in those easy-to-forget areas, like your ears, nose, neck, back and the tops of your feet. Also consider trying a sunscreen lip balm as well.
  • The sun's UVB rays (the radiation that causes most sunburns) is most prominent from around 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., so try to limit your exposure when the sun is most intense.
  • Keep babies under one year of age out of direct sunlight to prevent skin damage and dehydration. Never let them play or sleep in the sun.
  • Keep babies in the shade, under a tree, an umbrella, or a canopy. Never leave children (or your pets) in a parked vehicle.
  • If you or your child receives a sunburn, you shouldimmediately remove the person from the sun. Tree-shaded areas are typically 5 to 9 degrees cooler than direct sunlight.
  • When treating a sunburn, avoid creams or lotions that may hold heat inside the skin or may contain numbing medication (i.e. benzocaine or lidocaine). Aloe gel can be used.

Water safety

There's nothing like plunging into a swimming pool or scampering into the surf on a hot summer day.

But wherever there's water, there's also danger, and it's critical that everyone - regardless of age - exercises caution.

According to Health Canada sentinel surveillance data, 290 people died due to an accidental drowning in 2017, and drowning remains among the leading causes of death for young children and infants.

Most drowning incidents, roughly 62 per cent, take place during the summer, with 57 per cent of all incidents occurring in swimming pools. The federal data also shows that when it comes to swimming pool drownings, 49 per cent of those involve young children aged four and under.

Canadian hospitals reported 1,340 drowning-related hospitalizations between 2010 and 2017, with more than half of these cases being someone under the age of 19.

Drownings can take place in swimming pools, natural bodies of water and even in your own bathtub.

Many of these tragedies can be avoided by taking a few critical - but simple - steps that will keep you and your loved ones safe whenever water is involved.

The Canadian Red Cross stresses that the best way to ensure water safety is - first and foremost - by making sure you know how to swim and getting your child into swimming lessons at a young age.

In addition to being a strong swimmer, however, it's also incredibly important to know what to do in the event of a water-related emergency. Being prepared and taking preventative steps in advance of your pool or beach day can be the difference between life and death.

With that, here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to water safety this summer (Source: Health Canada, Canadian Red Cross):

  • The majority of child drownings occur when there is no adult supervision. Whenever kids are near water, there needs to be an adult present. Make sure novice swimmers are wearing a life jacket with a proper fit.
  • Make sure your swimming pool is secured with proper fencing on all sides and a latching, self-closing gate. Backyard pools are particularly dangerous for young children who may accidentally fall in.
  • Always enter a body of water, including a pool, feet first. Theonlytime it is ever safe to dive into the water is if you have proper training combined with at least 10 to 12 feet of water depth with clear visibility, like in the designated area of an aquatics centre.
  • When swimming in a natural body of water, never underestimate the power of moving water and always beware of rip currents. A rip current can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea. If you get caught in a rip, remain calm, conserve your energy and swim sideways (parallel to the shore) to get out of it rather than trying to swim directly back to shore.
  • Know how to identify a rip current before getting into the water. Scan the surf for any gaps in a row of waves and look to see if there's any seaweed or other debris floating out to sea rather than toward the shore.
  • As with most activities, do not consume drugs or alcohol while swimming.

Heat-related illness

Our planet is getting warmer and it's highly likely we'll be seeing more instances of prolonged extreme heat events - or heat waves - as time goes on.

All of us are susceptible to the impact of extreme heat, although seniors, children and people with underlying health conditions are most at-risk of severe complications from prolonged exposure to high temperatures.

Heat stroke typically sets in when your body temperature climbs to 40 C or above. Hot air, heat from the sun and hot surfaces can all increase body temperature to dangerous levels.

We can cool our body temperature through contact with cold air and by producing sweat, which evaporates and cools us down.

The impacts of heat-related illnesses, symptoms can set in quickly, and the results can be serious or even fatal.

Some of the main forms of heat illness include: heat edema (swelling of hands, feet, and ankles), heat rash, heat cramps (muscle cramps), heat fainting, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

There are two basic rules to follow to mitigate the risk of heat illness - drink plenty of water before you get thirsty and stay cool.

It's important to remember that thirst is a poor indicator of dehydration, sothe more water you consume, the better off you'll be.

Here are a few additional tips to follow(Source: Health Canada):

  • Be prepared for extreme heat
    • If you have air conditioning, make sure it is working properly. Fans and ceiling fans work as well, but only in lower humidity.
    • Monitor the weather forecast closely.
    • If you're heading to the beach or taking part in outdoor activities, have plenty of water or cold drinks on-hand.
  • Know the signs of heat illness. If you develop any of the following symptoms, move to a cool place and drink plenty of water right away:
    • dizziness or fainting
    • nausea or vomiting
    • headache
    • rapid breathing and heartbeat
    • extreme thirst (dry mouth or sticky saliva)
    • decreased urination with unusually dark yellow urine
    • changes of behaviour in children (like sleepiness or temper tantrums)
  • Alcohol - including beer - isn't a substitute for water and will not keep you hydrated. If you are enjoying alcoholic beverages responsibly, make sure to drink plenty of water along with it. In addition to drinking water, consider eating some fruit as well, as many fruits will help you stay hydrated.
  • If you plan on being outside during extreme heat, make sure you take plenty of breaks from any physical activity and find a cool, shaded area.
  • Keep your house cool!
    • Avoid cooking meals in the oven.
    • Consider opening the windows at night to allow cooler air inside.
    • It may not be good for your power bill but using fans in addition to air conditioning is a great way to circulate air and cool your home in a hurry.
    • Close your curtains or blinds during the day to prevent sunlight from getting in.
    • Consider taking cooler showers.
  • Heat stroke is a severe heat illness and qualifies as a medical emergency. Call 911 and cool/hydrate the person immediately if these symptoms are present:
    • High body temperature
    • Confusion and lack of coordination
    • Dizziness/fainting
    • No sweating, but very hot, red skin

Summer safety and COVID-19

In 2020, COVID-19 has been looming over nearly every aspect of our lives.

The pandemic has disrupted our deeply-engrained routines, causing us to ask questions which - as a society - we've never had to ask ourselves before.

Is it safe to go to the grocery store? What are the differences between a procedural mask and an N95 respirator? When will it be safe to play organized sports again?

While the presence of COVID-19 has turned our world upside down, it's also important to remember that life goes on.

And one of the best ways to experience a sliver of normalcy during the pandemic is by getting out of our homes and back into nature.

We've already been gifted with two heat waves so far this summer, and as restrictions loosen and people begin to re-adjust to being outside once again, the province's beaches, sidewalk cafes, parks and trails have provided a badly-needed refuge for COVID-weary New Brunswickers.

But how can we share these spaces safely while remaining coronavirus-conscious?

Here are some things to keep in mind (Source: World Health Organization):

  • Consider using lighter, breathable materials for your community mask, such as cotton, in outdoor areas where six-feet of physical distancing can't be maintained.
  • If the beach or pool you wanted to go to is too crowded, consider having a Plan B in place. New Brunswick has plenty of space for all of us, if you know where to look. 
  • Consider bringing a spare mask (pack it in a sandwich bag) if your usual mask gets sweaty.
  • Do not travel if you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, or if you have been in contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with - or has symptoms of - the virus.
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