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During COVID-19, is summer camp safe?

June 4, 2020 General Wellness

Whether you’re absolutely stir crazy or you’ve been in COVID mode so long you’re not quite sure what to do now that the restrictions are loosening, lo and behold, it’s summer camp planning time again—just when you thought there was no summer camp.

One scouting troop email says everything’s canceled. Another email from a different troop one town over announces camp is definitely on. And you have some decisions to make and considerations you’ve never had before when it comes to summer camp planning.

Safety of summer day camps

Day camps throughout the Philadelphia region are opening up according to state and local guidelines, which of course will mean a different kind of camp experience than kids are used to, and different from our own expectations of how camp should be.

When we think of camp, we remember our own camp experiences or those of years past, when kids enjoyed doing everything from canoeing to crafting to eating meals in groups. This year, summer camp—if it happens at all—will look a little different in light of COVID-19. 

Day camps, like those offered by the YMCA,are already geared up and have put in place best practices as advised by the CDC, such as: 
  • Having smaller groups of children and keeping the same kids together the whole time. The same children from the same geographic area kept together for the entire day minimizes exposure and risk. 
  • Screening of kids and staff at the start of each day (anyone with a fever of 100.4 or higher is not permitted to participate). 
  • Staff members must wear masks . Kids are not required to wear masks, but they may wear them by choice if they would like.
  • Social distancing is practiced for all activities. Kids maintain six-feet-apart spacing and no shared objects.
  • Parents and guardians must remain in cars for pick-up and drop-off. This further prevents exposure of more people and more groups to one another.

“Social distancing, masking and temperature screenings are going to be a way of life for us for a while. It might feel like these measures are interfering with or detracting from your ‘camp experience’ but these are what’s necessary to keep kids and families safe,” says Eileen Sherman, director of infection prevention at Main Line Health. Other safety measures camps are adopting include everything from more frequent cleaning and disinfecting to eliminating the use of water fountains.

These safety measures are critical to the safety of campers, but these measures may also limit programming. Some of the YMCA’s usual programs are unavailable for the 2020 season because it was impossible to implement the recommended guidelines for some programs. At time of writing, swimming pools have yet to open, and when/if they do, will require careful oversight to avoid overcrowding. 

COVID-19 and overnight camp

Many overnight camps are waiting as long as possible into the season to announce their summer plans in order to allow for the coronavirus curve to flatten and for the CDC to make its latest recommendations for overnight summer camps and any precautionary measures. Depending on where in Pennsylvania the camp is, some camps in the Yellow phase of reopening may be opening up partially while others may already be in the Green. Some, unfortunately, have chosen to not go forward with the summer 2020 season at all because they could not meet the stringent COVID-19 health and safety mandates required. In other cases, kids would have been robbed of having a full camp experience. 

If you are expecting to send a child to overnight camp this summer, you should anticipate additional health checks related to coronavirus, which may include antibody testing, if needed, and any related preventive and diagnostic procedures required at that time. Parents should also be aware that the usual camp season may be shortened, or certain weeks of camp may be designated in a certain way, or programs may be completely reinvented in order for camps to survive in the COVID climate. 

The CDC website indicates that certain conditions are riskier for spread of coronavirus, including campers that mix between groups and do not remain spaced apart—whether from the local geographic area or not from the local geographic area. You may want to inquire about your overnight camp’s policies for “mixing between groups” before making your decision. 

“Some parents will be more or less comfortable with sending their children to overnight camp this summer and this is a family decision you get to make based on the CDC guidance and your own family’s comfort level with the risk vs. reward,” says Sherman.

Some of the other favorite traditions that go along with overnight camp such as:

 

  • Family visitation weekends
  • Family tours of camp
  • Cabin visits

And even other traditions—like making mom or dad haul the trunk up that steep hill—likely won’t be happening this year. Instead, you may have only one parent or caregiver (with a mask on, of course) while the other circles the lot until you say your goodbyes. 

Then when you come home from camp, don’t plan on going to see grandma for at least 14 days. Better to wait it out, especially if she or grandfather has a pre-existing health condition. The same goes for anyone you might expose in those first few weeks at home. These are just a few of the things summer camp families need to think about in 2020 that they’ve never had to worry about before.

Still—there’s something to be said for giving kids the chance to attend camp in some capacity. Kids have missed out on being with their peers. They’ve undoubtedly gotten way less physical activity than they’re used to and should be getting at this time in their lives. Without physical group interaction this summer and with little details about what to expect next school year, they’re going for several more months without socializing with kids of their own age in person. When kids are around each other, there’s growth and maturation that happens that isn’t necessarily available when they’re just hanging out with their families at home. 

So if summer camp is still in the cards, start planning “as if.” Talk to your kids about the possibilities and the likely modifications and what some of the options may be. You may also want to prepare them for the very opposite as well: Summer camp could be canceled completely because these are uncertain times. But assuming they’re on their way out the door, start them packing—and don't forget your mask!

Learn more about Main Line Health's COVID-19 response, including new safety measures, appointment information and more.

Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.