Each summer, more than 26 million children attend day and overnight camps. In 2020, only 60% of the 6,000 accredited day camps and 18% of the 2,500 overnight camps opened, most with very limited participation leaving more than 19 million children without a camp experience. The 2021 camp season looks to be very different for four major reasons:
• Mitigation strategies: At the end of last season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied four overnight camps with 1,022 attendees from 41 states and implemented a multilayered prevention and mitigation strategy that was able to identify and isolate three asymptomatic COVID-19 cases and prevent secondary transmission.
• Accessible testing: Last season, there were very few available polymerase chain reaction tests and the turnaround time was five to seven days. Now we have access to rapid tests with results in 15 minutes.
• Better understanding of COVID-19 spread: The CDC recently found that adolescents and children were less susceptible to contracting COVID-19 with an infectivity that is much lower than that of adults.
• Vaccine availability: Vaccines are currently approved for teenagers as young as 16 and vaccine trials in the 12 to 15-year-old age group will be concluding over the next few months.
All these facts suggest that with proper mitigation activities, it will be possible to reopen most day and overnight camps for the 2021 season.
In January 2021, the American Camp Association released a revised edition of its “Field Guide for Camps” that can be found at bit.ly/3s2MLzZ. Its recommendations are:
• Prescreening prior to camp: Temperature taking and monitoring for symptoms and COVID-19 exposures.
• Initial health screening: To determine if an individual is permitted to enter camp.
• Ongoing screenings: Daily for day camps and more focused in the first two weeks of overnight camp.
• Management of cases or probable cases: Identifying quarantine areas and having a robust contact tracing program in place
• Hand hygiene: washing/sanitizing hands before eating food, upon entering the cabin, upon touching frequently touched surfaces, after using common items, after using the restroom and after coughing or sneezing.
• Safe food preparation: While COVID-19 is not foodborne, food service workers who are infected can transmit the virus to coworkers and diners.
• Physical distancing: Increasing spacing, using small groups, limiting mixing between groups and doing as many outdoor activities as possible.
• Masking: Masks should be worn universally by staff and campers in all indoor locations other than when eating, sleeping, showering and brushing teeth. Masks should be encouraged outdoors when staff and campers will be around other people. Overnight campers should be supplied with a minimum of 10 washable three ply masks and should be labeled.
Summer camp provides the opportunity for skill development, promotes independence, encourages teamwork, improves creativity, helps foster new friendships and allows children to deeply connect with nature. Most importantly, it keeps our kids emotionally grounded. After a year of living at home, it is incumbent upon parents and camping staff to find healthy ways to get our kids back to camp in 2021.
Dr. Shelly Senders is founder and owner of Senders Pediatrics in South Euclid.