Camp Update Summer 2020
At this point, most parents have come to the realization that their summer plans will continue to evolve. One thing is for sure, summer camp in this time of COVID-19 is not going to be the same.
Camps that do plan to operate have to follow strict guidelines to keep campers safe. Many have opted to cancel on-site camps and hold virtual programs. Others have decided to cancel all together.
The American Camp Association (ACA), a national nonprofit that offers accreditation for camps, along with YMCA of the USA, recently released guidelines to help summer programs open safely.
The ACA received guidance from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and American Academy of Pediatrics, among others. The document was authored by Environmental Health & Engineering, Inc.
Camps and other youth programs can use ACA’s recommendations along with any state and local regulations to come up with a plan.
In making a decision on whether or not to open, camps’ number one priority should be the health and safety of their campers, says ACA President and CEO Tom Rosenberg.
“As camps evaluate their opportunities for this summer, they will be making sure that they would be able to adhere to the field guide, CDC guidance and state public health regulations for camps,” Rosenberg says. “Every camp in the United States is unique and will have a myriad of considerations in determining whether they are able to operate this summer or if they will choose to offer an alternative, such as online virtual camp programs.”
Some key suggestions in the guidelines include:
- Regular screenings of campers including temperature checks
- Dividing campers into small groups, limiting the mixing of groups and a restriction of large gatherings at camps
- Wearing face masks when campers and staff are around others outside of their groups
- Regular hand washing and use of hand sanitizer among campers and staff
- Staggered drop-off and pick-up times for parents
- Good ventilation and air circulation in camp buildings
- Designating certain equipment like lifejackets to campers to decrease the quantity of shared items
- Staggering dining times and avoiding food buffets and other set-ups that require diners to use shared utensils
- Cleaning and disinfecting communal spaces, shared items, restrooms and frequently touched items regularly
- Limiting field trips or any other off-site trips during camp
- Restricting parents and other non-essential visitors from entering the camp
“The field guide is a living document and will be updated by the environmental health consulting firm and expert panelists who authored it as new information becomes available,” Rosenberg says.
Rules for camps may differ by county since it’s ultimately up to local public health officials to decide what they can do.
At Kennolyn Camps in Soquel, camp director Andrew Townsend recently found out that Santa Cruz County is only allowing residents to attend all of the camps in the area.
Kennolyn offers both residential and day camps with traditional activities like horseback riding and swimming.
With 90 percent of campers for the overnight camps coming from out of the area, he had to drastically reduce the offerings. Now the camp will have three two-week sessions of day camps and one two-week residential camp.
He has a plan in place for following the new guidelines. There will be regular screenings including temperature checks of campers and staff, campers separated into small groups, additional cleaning stations and more frequent cleaning and disinfecting.
“Camp is not going to be the same for anyone this year. But we think getting kids out in the open air after being cooped up would be a huge benefit,” Townsend says. “We want to do camp and make sure the kids have fun and make sure it’s a safe place.”
But like most camps, Kennolyn is taking a financial hit.
“We had to tell over 100 people from our seasonal staff that there wouldn’t be a position for them,” Townsend says. “We are a solid business, but our capacity has been reduced by 80 percent. Our income will be depleted, and we’ll just have to be careful like all small businesses.”
Kennolyn is not alone. Popular Camp Galileo in the Bay Area recently filed for bankruptcy because it had to cancel programs. Oher camps are offering virtual programs to stay afloat.
Finding New Ways
Okizu, a residential camp that serves families affected by childhood cancer, has chosen to cancel on-site programs and go completely virtual. Located in Butte County, 70 percent of its participants are from the Bay Area.
“We serve a compromised population, so we have reasons to be extra cautious,” says Okizu executive director Stuart Kaplan.
During the spring, its virtual family camp was very successful and gave camp organizers ideas for how to run summer programs online.
They tried to recreate traditions on Zoom, Kaplan says.
“We did Zoom discussion groups for parents, live Zoom feeds for kids and a virtual campfire program,” he says.
For a camp like Okizu, there is a positive side to exploring virtual opportunities, Kaplan says.
“We’re looking at ways to serve kids who normally can’t attend camp,” he says. “We could bring Camp Okizu to a kid in a hospital bed.”
Nonetheless, Kaplan says the new guidelines will affect the non-profit’s finances. About 30 to 40 percent of its income comes from in-person events. They are hoping to find more ways to raise money.
Camp Ramah in Watsonville will also be canceling on-site programs and offering virtual opportunities, says executive director Rabbi Sarah Shulman. The Jewish camp usually offers camp options like ocean exploration, surfing, performing arts and outdoor adventure.
The Santa Cruz County’s requirement to only open its camps to residents was a key reason for their decision, along with concerns about being able to keep campers and staff safe and the availability of medical supplies, she says.
“We’ll be offering virtual opportunities with electives and ritual celebrations,” she says. “We might be able to do small group meet-ups later this summer.”
With 80 percent of its revenue coming from camp tuition, this is definitely taking its toll, Shulman says.
“This is a tough time for us,” she says. “I feel hopeful and optimistic that we will make it. We have a lot of supporters. This camp is a community that transcends the summer. I think that sense of community and support will help get us through this.”
San Francisco camps will reopen on June 15 with limited capacity and modifications, according Mayor London Breed’s office.
The city’s public and private camps and programs are open to all children ages 6 to 17 in San Francisco. The programs must give priority to children of people who work for businesses and organizations that are allowed to operate under the city’s health order. They also must prioritize children who need it the most, including low-income youth and those who are part of the most vulnerable populations.
There will be safety measures including temperature screenings, enhanced cleanings and campers broken up into small groups.
“We have worked hard to create a safe environment for kids to be kids this summer,” Breed said in a statement. “Children need to be able to get outside and have fun while their parents know they are safe. While summer camps and programs will look different this year than they have in the past, it will provide relief for some parents and give their children the opportunity to play and spend time with other kids their age.”
The full American Camp Association 2020 summer camp operations guide is available here.