Heading into a second summer with COVID-19 concerns hanging on, planning for summer camps will require yet another level of research. Along with classic issues such as how to choose a camp and what to pack, parents now have real-world concerns such as quarantine procedures and socially distant gatherings.
As with many other public venues, camps are subject to state and local regulations. At press time, Colorado day and residential camps are operating under Colorado Public Health Order 20-36, which denotes the varying levels under which camps can operate depending on community spread and the COVID-19 dial.
Various organizations including the American Camp Association (ACA) and the Colorado Camps Network are working with the governor’s office, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), and the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) to develop clear guidance for both overnight and day camps regarding summer 2021 camp.
“While camps have experience managing communicable diseases in the past, this summer requires a very thoughtful and informed approach when it comes to COVID-19,” says Reid McKnight, administrative director at Geneva Glen Camp. McKnight is part of Colorado’s Advisory Committee on Licensing of Child Care Facilities and volunteers with the ACA, serving as chair of the Colorado and Wyoming region. He is also a member of the National Standards Commission which oversees the ACA Accreditation program. In addition, he’s preparing to send his own two children to overnight camp this summer.
The ACA encourages camps to use their Field Guide for Camp Operations to learn how to safely operate their camp programs, including the use of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs), which are designed to reduce the risk of introducing and/or spreading COVID-19 at camp. As McKnight explains, NPIs may include health screening before and during camp, the use of face coverings, cohorting (the use of small groups), increased sanitization practices on high-touch areas, physical distancing, frequent hand washing and other hygiene practices, and increased ventilation in indoor spaces.
“There is no ‘magic bullet’ that will keep a camp COVID-free,” McKnight says. “But using a layered approach with these NPIs will help greatly reduce the risk of the disease spreading at camp.”
Given all these considerations, it is possible to safely send your child to camp this summer. In an independent report published by the CDC, researchers found that camps that utilized a multilayered prevention and mitigation strategy were successful in identifying and isolating asymptomatic COVID-19 cases and preventing secondary transmission.
McKnight shared these important considerations for families when preparing for summer camp in the age of COVID.
- The COVID landscape is changing rapidly with things like vaccinations, faster testing capabilities, and COVID variants. Plans will need to be changed and updated, which is going to require patience and adaptability.
- Preparing for camp might include pre-screening and/or symptom tracking, requiring a COVID test, and possible quarantining or adjusting social behavior to reduce the chance of exposure prior to drop-off.
- Drop-off and pick up will likely be different from past summers. Some camps are planning drive-through drop-off and pick-up to limit exposure, and there might be increased health screening or even testing.
- Children will need to know that some activities and special camp events may not be possible this year due to safety restrictions. The whole camp gathered hand-in-hand around a campfire probably isn’t realistic in 2021.
- Your child will likely be using the same preventive measures at camp as they did in school, including wearing a face covering, cohorting, and increased handwashing, for example.
Parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions—any question is a valid one. Well-prepared camps will be glad to share their plans and discuss if camp is right for your child this summer. But, bear in mind that they may not have all the answers right now, as they await guidance from state and local health departments. Here are some questions to explore during your research:
- What are the staff time-off policies? Previously, summer camp staff would be able to go off-premises during their time off and between sessions. Ask if any changes have been made to those policies to help minimize exposure risk.
- What will happen when your camp has a suspected or a confirmed case of COVID-19? This is important, because while prevention should be the priority, it is critical that the camp have an updated communicable disease plan that addresses outbreak and response strategies.
- What will happen with my child should they get sick? How will they be cared for? Will I need to pick up my child and in what time frame? Will the camp test my child if symptoms are displayed?
In our new normal, camps will have updated safety guidelines, but the essence of the experience remains the same, including, says McKnight, “a sense of belonging, opportunities for challenges, and immersive experiences—all under the supervision of role models in a safe and supportive environment.”
Kelly Smith is an award-winning editor and writer who lives with her family in the Denver area.