A Blueprint for Health, Safety and Fun

By Dr. Dana Harris

While zoom, remote learning and being in quarantine have saved us in so many ways, there is no substitute for the real human connection. In 2020, over 70 percent of the summer camps did not open, many due to the global pandemic and government restrictions, others by choice.  Summer camps in 2021 are going to look a little different than usual and have proven that it can be done safely under the most challenging circumstances. What will that look like?  For many devoted camp administrators and directors, they are having to rely on out-of-the box thinking. Many parents however are experiencing mixed feelings about sending their child to camp this summer and have already expressed the need for added reassurance. It is completely normal for moms and dads to wonder. And for most, this will be the first time many children have ventured away from home for months. The thought of a group of 7- or 8-year-old youngsters gathering at camp and practicing social distancing or rigid hygiene may not be easy to envision.

“Summer camps have always been a special tradition,” explains Tom Rosenburg, CEO and President of the American Camp Association (ACA).  Camps are a great option that have been in existence for more than 150 years.  And while it is amazing to see 26 million children across the globe head off to camp every summer, it is the benefits and the outcomes, the stories of positive impact that really stand out. Every kid has a story.  Without question, summer camp offers a structured opportunity for kids to make friends, enjoy new experiences, and share memories that last a lifetime, something we all crave these days. There is an energy and magic to summer camp that cannot be replicated! And while the physical benefits are more significant than ever, so is a child’s mental health and well-being, especially during a pandemic.

Camps have already proven they can run safe and healthy programs amid a pandemic.  Proactive thinking, intentional planning, and a comprehensive blueprint will be essential if camps are eager in meeting the unique needs and circumstances of the local community. Transparency and accountability are at the forefront of their efforts. They want to make certain that parents feel comfortable putting their kids in a safe environment around other people. There has never been a summer that kids need camp more so than this one. And that is why I have provided a list of camp safety protocols issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) intended to protect campers, families, and our community.

  • Under the state’s safety guidelines, day camps are required to have a Covid-19 preparedness and response plan to share with all employees and families. A testing regiment using thermal scanners for both staff and campers for Covid-19 symptoms will be conducted upon their arrival each day. Intensified cleaning, and disinfection practices within the campgrounds will be enforced, as well as increased disinfecting of equipment and facilities.
  • Promoting healthy hygiene and respiratory etiquette is essential. Summer camp personnel should discuss with campers the importance of washing their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Monitoring cameras will be in place to make certain they are complying with this requirement. Hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol will be provided when they do not have access to soap and water, also encouraging children to cover their coughs and sneezes with a tissue or to use the inside of their elbow.  Signs should be posted throughout the camp sight to promote these healthy habits.
  • COVID safety. To promote social distancing, campers will be kept in small groups and spaced apart according to outdoor activities, with the same staff member’s supervision. Physical guides, such as tape on floors and signs on walls, will be used for social distancing. Staff will be sanitizing equipment and activity spaces regularly, and conducting health checks for children, family members, and staff before anyone enters the program spaces.
  • Swimming and field trips. These are off the table for now because of the challenges of staying socially distant on a school bus. This safeguard is intended to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus, while still providing kids with a safe, fun-filled camp experience.
  • Drop-Off and Pick-Up. Arrival times to the camp will be staggered and drop-off times or locations will be arranged by cohort (group) to limit contact between cohorts and with other campers and guardians as much as possible.  When possible, flexible work hours will be established and implemented to practice social distancing (maintaining distance of approximately 6 feet) between employees and others.
  • Mask Wearing. Staff and campers must wear a cloth face covering as feasible, and during times when physical distancing is difficult.  As a reminder, cloth face coverings should not be placed on children younger than 2 years of age or anyone who have trouble breathing or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cover without assistance.
  • Food Service.  Campers will be asked to bring their own meals as feasible and eat in separate areas or with the smaller group, instead of in a communal dining hall or cafeteria.  Disposable food service utensils and dishes will be used. If food is offered at any event, pre-packaged boxes or bags for each attendee will be provided.

There are many factors that go into the decision to send your child to camp, especially now.  One of the best ways you can make certain a camp is safe is by validating that they are following the appropriate protocols and adhering to the established CDC guidelines. Taking time to visit the campgrounds yourself is also highly recommended.  Sure, you can find valuable information on a website or on social media but seeing the campgrounds and talking with the team firsthand can help to make the selection process so much easier.  It further enables you to experience the atmosphere, allows you a chance to meet the staff in person while affording you an opportunity to ask whatever questions that come to mind.  And if you leave the session with positive vibes and feeling optimistic about your visit, you will have likely found the summer camp that is a good fit for you child. If you leave the site feeling uneasy, perhaps a new search would be beneficial.

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Pexels