Summer camp: What parents need to know this year
It’s time to make summer plans, and for many families, those plans include a summer camp. After the year we have had, the idea of getting out of the house and being active and seeing other kids seems very appealing.
While there is reason to hope this summer will be better than 2020, the reality is that COVID-19 will always be with us. The vaccines will make a difference, but they’re not yet available for campers under the age of 16 – and the youth and young adults who make up the bulk of the staff likely won’t all have been vaccinated either. As families make plans, they need to think about COVID-19.
Start here: consider the risk factors
Before even thinking about camp, families need to 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 children make their way to camp. If they haven’t been vaccinated yet, now is the time to work to get vaccinated.
If children have health conditions like asthma or congenital heart disease that put them at a higher risk of complications from COVID-19, parents should speak with their child’s doctor before sending them to camp. For some high-risk children, it may be best to stay home another summer.
It is also important to make sure that children are up to date on childhood vaccinations. Many children have fallen behind because of the pandemic.
Learn about the risks at camp – and plan to reduce the risks
There is no way to make a camp safe. But camps and parents can reduce the risk in many ways. Here are some things parents should think about and ask themselves questions about:
Where do campers and staff come from? A local day camp with children and staff primarily from a city with low COVID cases will present a lower risk than one from many different communities, including some with higher numbers. the New York Times has an interactive map of the United States that can help you check how low or how high the number of COVID-19 cases is in states and counties.
How are campers organized? Are they divided into small groups that do not mix (which is preferable)? Or are they in larger groups – or not divided into groups at all? The more mixing, the more chance there is of exposure and spread.
Are the activities mainly indoors or mainly outdoors? The more outdoors, the better. Indoor activities should take place in well ventilated areas.
What physical distance is planned or possible? While distance is not possible all day, the camp should be set up to limit overcrowding and give children three to six feet of space where possible. Parents should ask specific questions about typical days and activities at camp, including how meals will be managed, to get a sense of how close the children are to each other.
How much shared equipment will there be? The less, the better – and any shared equipment or surface should be cleaned regularly. This is especially important for sports camps. (If your child or teen has had COVID-19, check out my previous article on returning to sport and physical activity afterward.)
How does the camp detect symptoms or exposures and what protocols do they have in place? There should be daily symptom screening (and out-of-camp exposures) for campers and staff, with appropriate plans for staying home, testing, and quarantining based on the results of those screenings. Sleep camps should have a designated quarantine space and have access to testing. Also find out about the testing requirements.
Will campers and staff wear masks? There may be situations (such as swimming) where wearing masks can be difficult, but where possible, campers and staff should wear masks to ensure everyone’s safety.
What are the camp plans for hand washing? 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 will wash their hands and if hand sanitizer is available.
What is the meal plan? It is best if children bring their own food and sit away from each other when eating. If food is served, it should be prepackaged in bags or boxes, with no shared utensils.
What type of training and supervision will staff have regarding COVID-19? Staff should be trained in the recognition and prevention of COVID-19. In addition, they should be supervised and held accountable. There should be written protocols that parents should be able to see.
Are there any additional considerations for overnight camps? Yes. Night camps should take extra precautions. Examples include having everyone sleep from head to toe and the use of physical barriers between beds and sinks.
Talk to your children about how they feel about camp – and any concerns they may have about being with other people, especially if they have been mostly isolated at home. Talk specifically about how the days work and be prepared to answer any questions.
It sounds like a lot to do, but it’s important. For at least one more summer, we need to stay safe – for our health and the health of everyone around us.
For more information on overnight camps and recommendations for all camps, see Camp Safety Information During COVID-19 on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
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