Summer camp is a rite of passage for many children. Seeing friends from the previous year and enjoying nonstop outdoor fun while learning something new are some of the joys of this age-old experience.
However, planning for summer camp this year may require more research by parents. We know that our children may be looking forward to camp more this summer than ever before. What safety measures does your camp of choice have in place? What happens if a child or staff member gets sick after arrival? How will these and other issues be handled in your absence? These are just a few of the concerns many parents have.
The American Camp Association and the CDC have both offered guidance for operating youth and summer camps for 2021 and probably beyond. We spoke with Kyle Winkel from the American Camp Association for his insights on some of the pressing questions and concerns that parents have.
Washington Parent: How can we ensure that our children will be safe (as it pertains to COVID-19) if we choose to send them to camp this summer?
Kyle Winkel: [As ACA president and CEO Tom Rosenberg has stated], “The science demonstrates that camps that have implemented strict, layered mitigation strategies, including masking, cohorting, physical distancing, cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities, proper handwashing, and respiratory etiquette, have been able to safely operate in person.”
Our CampCounts 2020 Survey Research Study identifies approximately 90,000 campers served last summer … [and] only 102 campers/staff reported a positive COVID case or 0.1%.
WP: What are the three most important things to ask a camp director when considering a particular camp for Summer 2021?
KW: In no particular order, here are some of the initial questions and considerations … [For a full article, please see this resource – Questions You Should Ask Your Camp Director about a COVID-19 Summer.]
- What is your camper drop-off/pickup policy? Drop-off and pickup might look different this year than … in years past. To limit exposure, your camp may have implemented a new policy regarding how many people can be at camper drop-off/pickup. Make sure to ask if there have been any changes.
- Are you changing your staff time-off policies? Previously, summer camp staff would be able to go off-premises during their time off and between sessions. Ask your camp director if any changes have been made to those policies to help minimize exposure risk.
- What conversations are you having with your staff around what will be different this summer? Most camp directors are looking at ways they can reduce exposure this summer, which may include limited group activities, changes to mealtimes and more.
WP: As of now, children cannot get vaccinated en masse for COVID-19. In your opinion, should that impact a parent’s decision to send their child to camp? Why or why not?
KW: Parents are encouraged to ask their camps how they plan to diligently implement the layered protective approach outlined in the American Camp Association’s Field Guide, which includes updated information about vaccinations at camp.
WP: Any final thoughts about COVID-19 and summer camp 2021?
KW: Currently summer camps are experiencing a shortage of camp staff in the form of counselors, lifeguards, etc. Filling these roles will be vital in order to provide as many safe camp experiences as possible. Here are some of the top reasons to work at camp:
- Working at camp, you learn time management, conflict resolution and communication – focused on whole-child health and wellness in the camp environment.
- More than that, camp counselors are often what we call “near peer role models” – sometimes only 10-15 years removed in age from a camper – providing the best opportunity to influence our kids by demonstrating appropriate social skills, healthy decision making and healthy behaviors.
- Lastly, it’s rewarding: working at camp provides more than a paycheck, housing and tie-dye. It provides the opportunity to live out your values through your work – everything from appreciating nature and the environment to providing our kids with valuable STEM skills and social-emotional skills for the next generation of leaders in every industry. When you work at camp today you thrive tomorrow. Find out more about how you or someone you know can volunteer with the American Camp Association.
Lastly … many parents are wondering, “Will students and staff have to test before or during their time at camp?” And others want to know if staff will have to show proof of vaccination. The answers will vary from camp to camp. And as health law and medical ethics researcher Kayte Spector-Bagdady, J.D., M.Be. explains, “Institutions rarely have the right to require that you actually get vaccinated, but if you want to work somewhere in particular, or want others to provide you services (such as schools, or businesses, or travel), they might have the right to ask you to provide proof of vaccination first.”
One thing we know for sure, this conversation will continue well beyond the summer of 2021.