What’s up with camps this summer?

Culture Of Compliance Graphic

Open or closed in summer 2020, camps are looking to 2021 and evaluating options for operations this coming summer according to the American Camp Association. Just as the virus was “novel,” camps that operated during the 2020 season often reported a “camp reimagined” experience, with dates shifted, occupancy limited, public health measures in place and programs altered to meet the new reality of the pandemic. 

How will camps need to plan, prepare and operate for the 2021 season? While much uncertainty continues, a COVID-19-free landscape is unlikely. Here are some updates on the progress of the pandemic and expert insights into the hot topics of the time to assist camp professionals in planning and implementing safe and engaging camp and family planning.

Camp data from 2020 suggests that camps that successfully prevented and mitigated COVID-19 among campers and staff usedmultiple strategies (masks, cohorts, distancing, frequent hand-washing and enhanced sanitation, for example).

The ACA has released a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that identifies how four overnight summer camps in Maine were able to operate safely and successfully without the spread of COVID-19 this summer.

Integral to these camps’ success was employing a multilayered nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPI) strategy, reflecting adherence to measures outlined in ACA’s educational resource, a Field Guide for Camps on Implementation of CDC Guidance. Each of the NPIs provides a limited layer of protection, but when implemented collectively in a consistent and diligent manner by a camp’s entire community — campers, staff members and camp parents/guardians — they create a culture of compliance that can prevent and mitigate transmission of disease.

“This study of more than 1000 camp attendees shows promising data that overnight camps can operate safely in the era of COVID-19,” said lead study author Laura Blaisdell, MD/MPH, FAAP. “With this foundational information we look forward to ACA convening wider studies investigating the experience of more diverse camp experiences this year.”

“We have had so many success stories, from overnight camps that have not had a single infection, to day camps that have safely managed large groups of children every day, to virtual camps that made a profound difference for medically vulnerable children,” said Tom Rosenberg, American Camp Association chief executive officer. “When camps consistently use the innovative, multilayered safety strategy outlined in our Field Guide for Operating Camps in COVID-19, we see that many of them minimize infections as well as the spread of COVID-19.”

“Perhaps the most important story of camp 2020 is the least reported one,” said Rosenberg. “Camp directors reported that many children arrived feeling anxious, out of shape, or disconnected. They desperately sought — and ultimately found — the belonging, independence, and resilience they have needed for months.

So what is happening in our local summer activities and camp programs? My advice to parents is to do your research with the goal of meeting your own child’s individual needs. Choices for summer are even wider than they used to be as many virtual programs have now been added the regular overnight and day camp options. Checkout Pittsburgh Parent for the next few months as sponsors of summer programs finalize their plan for this summer and advertise their offerings for families in 2021. Coming next month – we will have an indepth look at how things are progressing in our area for the summer of 2021.

Hopefully, we can all embrace this new norm that has been imposed on all of us!