A COVID-Safer Summer Camp
Camp is supposed to be fun for the kids and a respite for parents. With a few sensible precautions, it can be both — while being COVID-safer, too.
August 2022: This post has been updated to reflect changes in CDC and FDA guidelines.
It’s almost summer! Do you know what your kids will be doing when school lets out?
Most of us parents didn’t have the faintest notion of how to answer that question in the spring of 2020. Now that vaccines are available for children ages five and up, the summer-camp scene looks a lot more like it did pre-pandemic. But with the latest variants and sub-variants continuing to prowl around, parents still want to know what camps are doing to keep their children safe from COVID-19 — or what camps would do if a surge showed up.
These life-savers for working parents have been keeping my kids busy during summer days for years. The CDC doesn’t currently have any guidelines that are specific to day camps. However, we can use what they have for similar types of institutions to see what a COVID-safer day camp should look like.
A day camp generally functions as something between a day-care program for kids above toddler age (Shh! Don’t tell my teenager) and regular K-12 school, so we can look at the CDC’s guidelines for K-12 schools and child-care programs as a model. A COVID-safer day camp will do the following:
Encourage or require staff and students to be up to date on vaccinations.
Require masking if COVID-19 Community Levels are high, and support all staff and students who decide to wear masks if levels are lower. Campers should also be masked on public transportation no matter what the Community Level is.
Keep the kids outside as much as possible (especially while eating), and ensure that indoor spaces have clean air.
Be able to test and isolate any campers or staff members who get COVID-19 symptoms during the camp day.
Have a COVID-19 screening testing program in place for participants in high-risk activities if COVID-19 Community Levels are medium or high (testing can happen at the camp or tests can be sent home with campers). These activities include close-contact sports, band, singing, and theater. If the camp serves people at high risk of getting COVID-19, they may have a screening testing program even if the Community Levels are low, and include all campers.
The federal government is providing free testing programs for camps through Operation Expanded Testing. The service is divided up by geographic region, so the camp’s location — the Northeast or South, the Midwest, or the West — will determine who your camp’s administrators need to talk to about access to the program.
Overnight campers are living together 24/7, and groups of them may be sleeping in the same room. They may also be coming to camp from places that have different COVID-19 levels. In addition to the guidelines for day camps above, the CDC recommends that overnight camps:
Consider asking campers and staff to test before arrival at camp. That’s even more important when people are coming from areas with different COVID-19 Community Levels. Camps may also have a screening testing program, especially if they serve campers who are at high risk of getting very sick from COVID-19.
Have a plan in place for testing campers who develop COVID-19 symptoms while they’re at camp, and for isolation and quarantine of campers and staff.
Require campers and staff who do off-site activities to follow CDC guidelines based on the COVID-19 Community Level in the area. If the Community Level is medium or high, campers or staff members who leave the camp for 24 hours or more would ideally test when they get back and then again five days later.
Last summer, I sent my older kid to sleepaway camp for the first time ever. The younger one attended the same day camp she’d been to in the past. Both camps had strong COVID-19 prevention plans in place, and neither had outbreaks. I hope your kids and mine all have a great summer this year, too.