By Jess Michaels
Camps Adjust With Safety Changes
Let’s talk about camp safety. It’s impossible to predict exactly where we will be with COVID-19 by summer, however, both day camps and overnight camps operated last summer successfully amid a global pandemic and campers had a safe, fun and healthy summer. Camps have put numerous protocols in place to mitigate the risk of COVID and while no environment can be 100% COVID free at this time, the summer camps that operated in the region had either no COVID cases or very few positive cases which were effectively managed and didn’t spread among the camp community. Camps have a blueprint on how to operate safely during COVID and the good news is that even the camps that didn’t open last summer, will be open for this summer.
Here are a number of safety measures that camps implemented last summer. You can expect to see many of these changes at camp but all final decisions will be made closer to the summer with COVID changing so rapidly. Although camps may look a little different than in summers past, the core fundamentals of what makes camp so special and valuable for children such as gaining independence, building self-esteem and making new friends in an outdoor environment, remain the same and these opportunities feel more important now than ever before.
Day Camp Safety
Daily Temperature Checks – Children and staff were required to have their temperatures taken daily before attending camp. If your child had a fever, they were asked to stay home for a certain number of days and some camps required a negative COVID test or a note from your pediatrician before returning to camp.
Daily Health Screening – Families were asked to fill out daily health screenings. If a child or staff were exhibiting any COVID symptoms or had traveled to certain states, they were asked to stay home from camp.
Reduced capacity – Camps ran at a reduced capacity of campers to maintain social distancing guidelines.
Outside activities – Because the spread of COVID is reduced when outdoors, many camps ran outdoor programs and maximized their outdoor space.
Hand hygiene – Hand hygiene was a top priority at camp, with additional hand washing and hand sanitizer stations throughout camp. Children cleaned their hands before, during and after activities. Many camp directors reported a decrease in common sicknesses over the summer because of diligent hand hygiene.
Cohorts/pods – Camp groups acted as cohorts where they stayed together throughout the day and didn’t intermingle with other groups. State guidelines will determine if cohorts are needed and if so, the size of them for 2021.
Additional cleaning & disinfecting – Camps have always cleaned and disinfected equipment and activity areas but with COVID, those cleanings increased throughout the day and included a deeper cleaning.
Lunch– To limit the number of people gathering together, lunch times were staggered and lunch took place outside. Many camps also switched the way they served lunch from family-style or buffet to pre-packaged lunches.
Rainy Days – Because camps ran activities outside for the most part, some camps built in “rain days” last summer, very much like snow days where there wasn’t camp on extremely wet days.
Masks – Last summer, all staff wore masks and children wore masks on buses and when social distancing couldn’t be maintained.
Eliminated activities – There were certain activities that were eliminated from the camp program because of too much contact with other people or equipment.
Busing – Some camps decided to run busing last summer and some didn’t but camps will do busing in 2021. Due to social distancing guidelines, there may be less children on each bus this summer, children may be wearing masks and children may sit alone, with a sibling or with a camper from their group.
Field trips – While out of camp trips have always been fun, camps eliminated them last summer to reduce exposure to other people. Field trips will be determined by each camp and final decisions on them will occur closer to summer when directors can evaluate where the state is with COVID-19.
Overnight Camp Safety
Testing – The use of COVID-19 tests was part of how overnight camps were able to mitigate the risk of COVID at camp last summer. Both campers and staff were required to take a test a number of days before camp and then again once at camp. Testing wasn’t the one magic bullet but was used as part of a multi-layered system to mitigate the risk of COVID at camp. Testing may look different this summer as advancements in testing occur and final decisions on testing will occur closer to summer.
Temperature checks & Daily Health Screening – Like day camps, camper and staff had their temperature taken each morning and a health screening was given daily at overnight camp.
Cohorts/Pods – With the goal of all campers being able to come together after a period of time, many overnight camps had cohorts or families where those campers started camp together and only intermingled with their cohort for the first 2-3 weeks of camp. As time went on and camp was deemed COVID free, campers were able to come together as a camp while also maintaining distancing between other cohorts. It is too early to tell whether camps will need to have cohorts and pods for the summer.
Outdoors – Overnight camps used their vast outdoor space to help mitigate the risk of COVID and spent as much time outdoors as possible which reduces the risk of spreading COVID.
Masks – Masks were used when social distancing couldn’t be maintained between cohorts or when an all camp gathering was occurring.
Inter-camp Games – While intercamp games have long been a tradition of overnight camps, last year there were no inter camps to mitigate the risk of COVID. Decisions on inter-camp games will be made closer to summer.
Cleaning/disinfecting – As with day camps, there was an increase in cleaning and disinfecting around camp from equipment to facilities.
Hand hygiene – Camps increased hand hygiene among campers and staff with additional hand washing and hand sanitizing throughout the day. Overnight camp directors also reported less common sicknesses because of the additional hand hygiene.
All camp gatherings – One of the most special parts of overnight camp is when the whole camp comes together for all camp gatherings. After it was deemed safe to all come together, these larger camp gatherings were able to occur safely.
Dining – Each camp that opened did dining differently however campers ate outside more frequently and some camps staggered eating times.
Visiting Day – Last summer, the overnight camps that ran didn’t offer a visiting day. This was because the camp session was shorter and also it ensured the bubble they created at camp remained COVID free. Decisions on Visiting Day will be made closer to the summer depending on rates of infection at the time.
Camp trips – Trips outside of camp were eliminated last summer. What camp trips will look like this summer will all depend on what the rates of COVID infection are in the states the camps are located in and where the campers are traveling to.
This story first appeared on our sister publication newyorkfamily.com.