Summer break is fast approaching, bringing camp along with it. As Northeast Ohio continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, summer camps are left to adjust and safeguard campers, staff and families, all while providing a fun experience.
According to Karen Heitlinger, chair, center for early childhood at the Music Settlement in Cleveland, and Rebecca McNish, director of development at Geauga Humane Society’s Rescue Village in Russell Township, safety is top of mind for all – inside and outside of their immediate camp communities.
“All safety protocols and practices that have supported health and safety for our school year will be maintained at camps,” Heitlinger said. “These include daily health screenings, alignment to a social contract and remaining home while symptomatic, regular handwashing, masking and social distancing. The summer also affords the opportunity to be outside.”
McNish said though Rescue Village didn’t have campers in person last year in an abundance of caution, the 2021 camp season will bring a shorter camp week, with smaller in-person groups of 10 campers. The option to attend online camp is also still available, with in-person events available on days where regular campers won’t be on campus.
“We’re also going to be outside as much as we can too,” McNish noted. “We’ve spoken with our guests and asked them if they can do their demonstrations outside and in most cases, the answer was yes. But still, our community room also allows for safe social distancing, and is big enough for 10 kids to interact safely.”
She added Rescue Village also has strict safety protocols that include constant mask-wearing, hand washing, social distancing and temperature checks. The camp day will also end before lunch, whereas in the past it was after campers ate lunch. Meals won’t be served on campus.
And safety becomes an even more serious question when families have children attending more than one camp. While it is easier to track potential exposures and contacts when campers are members of just one camp community, siblings and friends that interact with each other and different camps can add a new layer of health questions.
To keep the chance for exposure down to a minimum and allow camps to operate for the summer, the camp professionals said communication is key.
“Parents are encouraged to share information about practices with their children in a calm, factual way emphasizing the benefits without promoting fear,” Heitlinger said. “Best practices do not have a season, so the measures that have worked well for in-person programs will be sustained. Kids are very adaptable and have been flexible on wearing masks, washing hands and sanitizing regularly, providing distance for personal space and transitioning in the building.”
McNish said, “The message we want parents to give them is that we’ve worked hard to give them a camp experience that was as valuable as the experience we gave pre-COVID. But we hope that parents will talk about respecting the privilege and doing their part by keeping themselves and other people safe.”
These conversations should happen before everyone goes off to their respective camps, no matter if each kid is going to the same or different camps.
“To the extent that good health practices can be an ongoing conversation, the better the children will be keeping that top of mind,” McNish said. “I think if parents wait until they arrive at camps and the kids are excited to be here, the message from us about safety is going to be pretty diluted in the excitement of the day. If the message has been given to them already, then it won’t be something brand new.”
Heitlinger stated, “This does inform both parent and camper how things will be shaped and how to align. Consistency is second in importance. It is good to have this information available as people are registering for camp and reinforce it as the first days approach. When enrolling in a camp, you are agreeing to support the practices that impact the group while in attendance.”