Many children have been cooped up in their homes for the past year, unable to take part in some of the joys of childhood because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But there may be reprieve for kids and parents alike in a few months — summer camps. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Academy of Pediatrics have released guidance for how camps can safely operate this summer.
“The pandemic shut down much of that important socialization and activity, and parents likely are eager to send their children to summer camp so they can begin to regain some normalcy,” said Dr. Sara Bode, a member of the AAP Council on School Health. “When camps closely follow safety protocols, this can be a safe option.”
How to safely have summer camps
The CDC has encouraged camp administrators to teach and reinforce mask wearing for campers and to keep an adequate supply of soap, tissues, hand sanitizer as well as no-touch trash cans.
Camp staff should frequently clean and disinfect surfaces that are often touched and limit the use of shared objects such as art supplies, toys and games, the CDC advises. Each camper’s belongings should be kept separate from others.
The CDC says campers should bring their own meals if possible and eat in separate or smaller areas, as opposed to the communal dining halls or cafeterias that are traditional at camps. If food is offered, it should be in pre-packaged boxes or bags instead of a buffet.
Social distancing is recommended, but the AAP notes “it may be a challenge” to maintain.
“The guidance is intended to reduce, but may not eliminate, the likelihood of a COVID-19 outbreak at a camp,” the AAP said in its guidance. “Camps are a setting where social/physical distancing may be challenging, resulting in the potential for outbreaks of COVID-19 as well as other common pathogens in children, especially in congregate settings.”
Camp administrators may consider offering protections for staff and campers who are at high risk for COVID-19, as well as only keeping small groups together and staggering arrival and drop-off times to limit contact, the CDC says.
Health officials encourage overnight camps to add physical barriers between bathroom sinks and beds, disinfect bathrooms regularly, set up isolation rooms if anyone has COVID-like symptoms and develop procedures if someone does get sick.
“Recognizing that the camp setting may not be devoid of cases of COVID-19, camp operators should work with local public health authorities to appropriately manage implementation of recommended exclusion, quarantine and contact tracing processes at camp,” the AAP said.
So the AAP encourages parents to do their homework and find out what protocols camps are following before registering their children.
What do others say?
Dr. Anthony Fauci has estimated that elementary-age children will not be vaccinated until early 2022, but the infectious disease expert said “it’s conceivable” for kids to attend summer camps this year.
“If we get into the summer and you have a considerable percentage of the population vaccinated and the level in the community gets below that plateau that’s worrying me and my colleagues in public health, it is conceivable that you would have a good degree of flexibility during the summer, even with the children, with things like camps,” Fauci said Sunday on ‘Face the Nation’ “We don’t know that for sure, but I think that’s an aspirational goal that we should go for.”
If camp administrators follow the safety recommendations, the benefits of summer camps may outweigh the risks, Pennsylvania pediatrician Dr. Michael Petrosky told KDKA.
“If schools have been able to do as well as they had throughout this year, I have a feeling summer camps can do just as well, if not even better,” he said.