As our Spring of homeschooling comes to a close and Summer gets underway, camps nationwide are facing a decision about whether or not to open – and parents are making their own decisions about how to spend their summer. There are so many considerations surrounding camp this year, so we turned to Susie Lupert, Executive Director of the American Camp Association, NY and NJ, to answer some of our questions. Please check with the CDC for updated national information, your local camp association, and Department of Health for more details on your specific area.
How are camps preparing for this summer—including deciding whether to open?
Decisions regarding camps opening will be made state to state. At this time [May 27], there have been no decisions in New York and NJ on whether day and overnight camps will be able to operate this summer. Last week, the American Camp Association and Y-USA released guidelines for best practices in running a camp. These guidelines were created by an environmental health firm who convened with public health experts, doctors representing the AAP, experts in epidemiology and camp health experts. This can be found on acacamps.org and has been shared with local and state agencies to help them make best decisions. We have shared these protocols with state and local agencies who will ultimately make decisions on whether camps can operate safely this summer. The CDC also released considerations for youth camps last week to help guide camps towards safely reopening.
There is so much information out there that it can be hard to find facts. What are the best online resources?
Families can visit the American Camp Association’s website to read the Field Guide for Camps Guidelines here https://www.acacamps.org/resource-library/coronavirus/camp-business/camp-operations-guide-summer-2020 and can visit the CDC guidelines herehttps://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/summer-camps.html
You mention this is a state decision—but the CDC has also issued guidelines…
The guidelines released from ACA and the CDC are federal guidelines but decisions on whether camps can operate are made by the states.
How is your organization working to help camps open and keep campers safe?
Over the past two months, the American Camp Association has offered our member camps educational resources to help them navigate the ever changing climate among Covid-19. We engaged experts in several fields to lead virtual sessions for members on everything from Communicating with Your Camp Families, Staff, and Alumni During COVID-19 to Your Camps Legal Questions Answered to Camp Finances in the Age of COVID-19. We also worked to create the guidelines (see above) to help states and camps find a way to safely operate this summer.
What are the biggest changes many campers will see this summer?
Camp will look different this summer including additional health screenings, smaller group sizes, no field trips or visiting days, additional handwashing, constant cleaning and disinfecting throughout the day, less children in bunks, etc. While camp will feel a bit different for campers and staff, there are certain parts of camp that even a pandemic can’t take away. Camp is about traditions, rituals, having fun, trying new things, making new friends and having fun outside. These are things that intrinsic to the camp experience and will be ever present as long as there is summer camp.
What questions should parents be asking camp owners before enrolling?
One of the most important things parents can do when choosing a camp is making sure the camp is inspected by the Department of Health at a minimum. There are thousands of unregulated summer camps. Camps that aren’t regulated by the DOH don’t have to have medical personnel on staff and don’t have to report infectious diseases. Choosing an Accredited camp means the camp goes above and beyond the basic requirements of a DOH licensed summer camp and is committed to youth development and safety. Parents should also ask what guidelines will be in place if the camp is able to operate this summer. Will there be temperature checks, testing, how many nurses are on staff, how will you change staff training amid COVID, etc.
Why is camp so important—aka worth considering even with these risks, in your opinion?
At this point, we certainly have to consider our children’s mental health. Children have been home, out of school for months. They need to socialize with friends, try new activities, take a break from the screens of distance learning and return to some sense of normalcy. Camp also provides essential childcare for many working parents so if parents are returning to work this summer, they need safe childcare for their children.
Is camp easier to open than schools, in some ways?
Summer camps operate outside for the most part and have a lot of land to spread out, operating on acres of land. It’s easy for children to be outside at camp because the camp revolves around outdoor activities. Camps are also used to pivoting even during a typical summer. They are used to planning for an activity then having to switch at a moment’s notice due to a thunderstorm. They are used to adapting their program where I think schools operate in a certain way or at least they have prior to COVID-19.
What are the difference in terms of preparation and risks for sleepaway versus day camp?
Both day and overnight camps each have their challenges when considering operating this summer. There is no way to completely take away the risk of COVID this summer, unless you keep your child indoors at your house all summer. What camps can do is mitigate that risk with protocols such as small group sizes, health screenings, continual cleaning & disinfecting, and dozens of other guidelines.