Summer camps can be a chance for children and teens to make friends, learn new skills, and spend time outdoors. Kids have missed out on a lot of these opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
You may be looking for a camp where your child can relax and reconnect, but worried since COVID-19 continues to spread. More than a year into the pandemic, studies show that camps with proper safety steps in place can greatly limit the spread of COVID-19 infections. Key steps include mask wearing, physical distancing, having smaller groups, and cleaning and disinfecting as part of the daily routine.
If you're considering camp for your child this summer, whether it's a just during the day or an overnight program, here are some questions to ask:
Camps should have age-appropriate ways to help children practice hand hygiene, stay a safe distance from others, and wear face masks whenever possible and practical. This can be a challenge, especially for younger campers, so they will need a lot of reminders.
Having activities outdoors, with more fresh air and room to spread out, can lower the risk of spreading COVID-19. Being outside also gives children a way to connect with nature, which can boost their health and mental health after a long, stressful year. However, even outside, it is important to avoid sharing germs. Camps should limit shared equipment for games and activities and clean them often.
In addition to the general safety steps for overnight and day camps, sports camps should follow safety guidance for drills, practices and competitions. This includes local and state rules, which can vary widely.
Camps should have plan for what to do if a camper or staff member starts having symptoms of COVID-19, or any other illness. This should be based on local or state public health guidelines and policies about how to respond and report suspected COVID-19 cases. They should provide clear information to staff, campers and their families on when and how long to stay home if they get sick or have close contact with some who has COVID-19.
Children attending camp may be afraid of being away from home and gathering face-to-face with others after a lengthy time at home. The camps health providers should have specialized training in children's health and emotional well-being. Counselors should also have training available to help children cope with stress they may be experiencing.
Camp directors should aim to meet the needs of all children. Some children with special health care needs or disabilities may need special accommodations so they can enjoy camp while being protected against COVID-19. If your child has special health care needs, talk with camp directors and your pediatrician to identify what specific accommodations your child may need. Existing plans, such as Individualized Family Service Plans and Individual Education Plans, can be helpful.
According to the CDC, small groups of campers with dedicated staff, when possible, will help minimize COVID-19 risk. Staggered arrival and drop-off times may also help limit contact between groups.
It may be safest for campers bring their own meals, if possible, and eat in separate areas or with their smaller group. This would be less risky than dining halls or cafeterias. Ideally, children should bring their own water bottles rather than drinking from water fountains.
When looking at overnight camps, ask if children will bunk with their daytime groups and how sleeping areas will be arranged. Lining up mats or beds so that campers and staff sleep head-to-toe at least 6 feet apart can help limit risk.
A diagnostic COVID-19 test can be useful when a camper or a staff member had a known exposure to COVID-19, or is showing coronavirus symptoms. In these cases, test results can help guide decisions such as who can return to camp safely, when to notify families whose children may have been exposed, or whether the camp should be closed.
However, antibody blood tests should not be used in decisions about going to camp. These tests only show if someone had the virus at one point in time. They can't identify someone who still has an active infection without symptoms, for example. Also, a camper who is negative for COVID-19 on the first day of camp may not remain negative throughout the camp session.
Before choosing a camp, talk with your pediatrician to make sure your child is up to date on vaccines. Your pediatrician can help you choose a camp that suits your child's medical, emotional and behavioral needs while helping them have a healthy, positive experience.