Parents are encouraged to carefully review the camp’s COVID-19 protocols before sending a child to camp
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Sunny days spent exploring the outdoors, learning new skills and undertaking new challenges are all part of the summer camp experience.
COVID-19 shut down overnight camps last year while day camps operated much differently than in 2019. The 2021 camping season should include overnight camps and day camps with a few protocols. If your children are attending day camp or overnight camp this summer, carefully review the camp’s COVID protocols. They may be different then compared with now.
Overall, the mental health benefits to children may outweigh the risk since few children have experienced severe illness because of COVID-19. Children’s opportunities to socialize were so curtailed for the past year, making this an ideal summer for camp.
“They develop conflict resolution skills and other skills as they have to make decisions,” said Marcy Abramsky, licensed clinical social worker and InspireAmind Counseling clinical social worker and therapist in private practice in Buffalo. “They know they don’t have their parents. They have to make decisions on their own and be more self-reliant. It does help them to get along with peers better. It fosters more skills in making friendships, keep friendships for a period of time.”
She added that since children have remained cooped up so long for the past year, going away to camp can help them make up for some lost time in developing social skills, providing they can do so safely.
The big issue is if the children raise the risk of infecting those more vulnerable populations. Going to a summer camp within New York may be a good idea this year. Other states abide by different COVID-19 protocols than New York. In addition, should an outbreak occur and the camp sends children home, a spontaneous couple hours’ drive is easier than arranging cross-country travel.
Susie Lupert, executive director of The American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey based in New York City, said that her organization bases its recommendations to camps on their respective state’s guidelines.
“We’re in a little bit of a holding pattern,” she said in mid-May. “We’re working with the governor’s office and the Department of Health on ways to open that is safe. We want to make sure our industry can thrive.”
The most conservative guidelines at present include keeping children in dedicated cohorts, such all children who sleep in a particular a cabin, or for day camps, chosen groups, who will not mingle with the rest of the camp.
This strategy can limit the reach of an outbreak should one occur.
“For overnight camps, there will likely be testing protocols and for day camps, daily health screenings,” Lupert said. “There will likely be various cleaning protocols throughout the day.”
Last summer, day camps opened in New York and experienced very few issues. However, overnight camps did not open.
Lupert said that this year, there will likely be masks worn while indoors and in a larger group.
“Anyone eligible should receive the vaccine,” she added.
She recommends that parents send their children only to camps accredited with the American Camp Association and licensed by the New York State Department of Health.
“That’s a better level of security that a camp is dedicated to the safety and health of their campers,” Lupert said. “They have to have medical staff and have Department of Health representatives who check on them before and during camp.”
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers guidelines for camps on its site, it is up to camps to follow New York State guidelines for how they operate this summer.
“Children need to be outdoors, have social interactions, get away from screens and have a great time,” Lupert said. “It’s of the utmost importance to get them into new and challenging situations. Mental health issues are on the rise, as is obesity. We know it’s a result of children being locked indoors for the better part of a year. Going to camp really can be an antidote to what they have experienced and encourage them to be more active for the rest of the year.”
To read the New York State Department of Health’s general guidelines for children’s camps, visit https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/3603. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on COVID-19 and camping are at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/summer-camps.html.