As the weather starts to warm up and summer quickly approaches, many summer camps in Northeast Ohio are preparing their programs. That preparation includes the many protocols they will have to follow in order to keep their staff and campers safe and healthy while providing a fun environment.
Bill Champ, director of summer programs at University School in Shaker Heights; Rivky Friedman, founder of Camp Gan Israel in Beachwood; and Leslie Mapes, COO at Fieldstone Farm in Bainbridge Township, said the recent developments in vaccine distribution and falling COVID cases could determine what protocols will be in place this summer.
Mapes said Fieldstone Farm has cross-functional team members who act as a “restart team” for the camp. They meet together, as needed, to discuss any changes that may need to be made. Then, those changes are reviewed by the management team before being finalized. Because Fieldstone Farm serves a vulnerable population, Mapes said they always err on the side of caution.
“If we think we might make any changes, we consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines first,” Mapes said. “If cases continue to go down and we have volunteers who are comfortable being here, we might consider expanding our camp. We would do that very carefully after a great deal of discussion, and we would still be requiring masks.”
Champ said University School will operate with much of the same protocols it had during the regular school year. According to Champ, there has not been one recorded transmission of COVID-19 from one student to another at the school. Although they will still be just as cautious this summer, Champ said the vaccine roll-out can change the future outlook of their camp.
“The biggest problem with kids is them taking it home to their parents,” Champ said. “The majority of the people who have gotten really sick from it are over the age of 50, and by summer they’re all going to be vaccinated. I think the landscape is going to look very different, but that being said, we’re not taking that for granted at all.”
Friedman said parents are looking forward to sending their children back to camps, partially after seeing how well schools handled the school years.
“Parents are thrilled that there’s camp and openings, and there’s lots of interest,” Friedman said. “So I don’t have any hesitations or fears. It seems that because schools are up and running, and parents are trusting the schools for the most part and trying to stay on the same protocols that are happening at schools, as things open up, we’ll add to it.”
The state of Ohio reported that, as of March 21, 24% of its population got at least one dose of the vaccine, while 13.9% has been fully vaccinated. Champ said those numbers likely mean older staff will be more comfortable working with children.
“A lot of adults are very worried about catching this, because obviously the older you are, the more susceptible you are to more serious symptoms,” Champ said. “I think when you take that variable out and adults are more comfortable working with kids, we can have more competent staff and more senior staff who maybe last year would have been hesitant to come work at the camp.”
While the basic protocols such as hand washing, mask wearing and social distancing will be in place, Champ said May 1 will be the date they start looking at the bigger picture of how relaxed or stringent their protocols will need to be.
“It gives us enough time to order equipment or make any special arrangements or changes,” Champ said. “But, it’s also close enough to the beginning of the summer that you’re going to have a much clearer vision of what things are going to look like. We’re still six weeks away from May 1, and if you look back six weeks ago, think about how different it was.”
Whether social-distancing measures will be more stringent or more relaxed, Mapes said last summer’s experience will help aid Fieldstone Farm in creating a safe environment for everyone.
“We’re confident that our summer camp will go through very well,” Mapes said. “We were able to conduct it last year when everything was more challenging, so we’re very happy that it’s continuing this year. I’m confident that it will go smoothly. Because we serve a vulnerable population and we rely on volunteers to have our classes, we need to make sure that everyone here is acting as safely as possible. We tend to be a little bit more conservative.”