It’s time to make summer plans, and for many families, those plans include summer camps. After the year we’ve had, the idea of getting out of the house, being active and seeing other kids sounds very engaging.
While there is reason to hope that this summer will be better than 2020, the reality is that COVID-19 will still be with us. The vaccines will make a difference, but they’re not yet available to campers under the age of 16 – and the teenagers and young adults who make up most of the staff are unlikely to have all been vaccinated either. When families make plans, they have to think about COVID-19.
Start here: consider risk factors
Before families even think about a camp, they should consider their particular risk factors. Hopefully all of the high-risk adults in the family will have received a COVID-19 vaccine by the time the kids go to camp. If you haven’t been vaccinated, now is the time to work on the vaccination.
If children have health problems such as asthma or congenital heart disease that put them at higher risk of complications from COVID-19, parents should speak to their child’s doctor before sending them to camp. For some high-risk children, it may be better to stay home one more summer.
It is also important to make sure that the children are informed about vaccinations for children. Many children have stayed behind because of the pandemic.
Find out about risks in the camp – and plan to reduce the risk
There is no way to make a camp risk free. However, there are many ways that camps and parents can reduce the risk. Here are some things parents should think and ask about:
Where do campers and employees come from? A local day camp with children and staff, most of whom are from a city with a low number of COVID cases, is associated with a lower risk than a camp that is from many different communities, including some with higher numbers. The New York Times has an interactive map of the United States that you can use to see how low or high the COVID-19 case numbers are in the states and counties.
How are the campers organized? Are they divided into small groups that do not mix (which is preferable)? Or are they in larger groups – or not in groups at all? The more blended, the greater the likelihood of exposure and spreading.
Are activities mostly indoors or mostly outdoors? The more out there, the better. Indoor activities should take place in well-ventilated areas.
How much physical distancing is planned or possible? While distancing may not be possible all day, camp should be set up to limit the crowd and provide three to six feet of space for children where possible. Parents should specifically ask about typical days and activities in camp, including how meals are managed, to get a sense of how close the children will be to each other.
How much common equipment will there be? The less the better – and any shared device or surface should be cleaned regularly. This is especially important for sports camps. (If your child or teenager had COVID-19, check out my previous blog post about returning to exercise and physical activity afterward.)
How is the camp screened for symptoms or exposure and what are the protocols? Daily symptom (and off-campus exposures) screening should be performed for campers and staff, with appropriate home plans, testing, and quarantine based on the results of these screenings. Overnight camps should have a quarantine room and access to testing. Also ask about the test requirements.
Will the campers and staff wear masks? There may be some situations (like swimming) where wearing masks can be difficult, but campers and staff should wear masks as much as possible to keep everyone safe.
What are the plans of the hand washing camp? Regular hand washing with soap and water or hand sanitizer is important to limit the spread of germs, including the virus that causes COVID-19. Parents should ask how often campers wash their hands and whether hand sanitizer is available.
What’s the meal plan? It is best for children to bring their own food and to sit at a distance from each other while they eat. When food is served, it should be prepackaged in bags or boxes with no common utensils.
What kind of training and supervision will staff have regarding COVID-19? Personnel should be trained to recognize and prevent COVID-19. In addition, they should be monitored and held accountable. There should be written records for parents to see.
Are there any additional considerations for overnight camps? Yes. Overnight camps need to take additional precautions. Examples include sleeping from head to toe and the use of physical barriers between beds and sinks.
Talk to your children about how they feel in camp – and about any worries they may have when they are with other people, especially if they have been mostly isolated at home. Talk specifically about how the days will work out and answer any questions.
It sounds like a lot to do, but it’s important. We need to stay safe for at least one more summer – for our health and the health of everyone around us.
For more information on overnight camps and recommendations for all camps, see the camp safety information during COVID-19 on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
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