As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on for the fifth straight month, parents are faced with the ultimate dilemma: keep kids home or send them to summer camp. Regardless of which decision you make, there are certainly
questions you should ask before you send kids to summer activities, experts say.
"All facilities should follow the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance for providing a safe environment," Dr. Scott Krugman, vice chair of pediatrics at the Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, tells Romper. "This includes screening participants, physical distancing as much as possible, and definitely mask-wearing while inside. Facilities should regularly clean surfaces and provide access to hand-washing stations or hand sanitizer. They must also have the ability to safely serve food without cross-contamination of utensils."
Whether your kid heads to sleep-away camp, attends day camp at the local rec center, or takes summer swim lessons at the city pool, knowing how these precautions will be handled before you send your child off to an activity this summer is paramount when it comes to keeping them safe and healthy.
Summer activities for kids will look quite different this year, but that doesn't mean all of the fun has to go out the window. Kids can still enjoy summer activities with a few extra safety precautions in place and you can savor a few kid-free hours (or even
entire days) once you know exactly what to expect.
What safety/cleaning protocols are in place?
Many organizations have taken to the web to provide patrons with information about cleaning and safety during the pandemic. Even if the info is available on their website or social pages, it never hurts to ask for details about cleanliness when you send your kids to their summer activities.
Who is required to wear face masks?
simon2579/E+/Getty Images Danielle Dooley, M.D., M.Phil., medical director of Community Affairs and Population Health at Children’s National Hospital, tells Romper that parents should inquire about face mask practices prior to their child starting an activity. "Is the organization requiring that participants and leaders wear face masks? This may not always be feasible for very young children, in which case small group sizes and adequate activity space are essential," Dr. Dooley tells Romper.
Does my child need to be tested prior to attending?
Although your child's activity may recommend getting tested prior to participating, experts explain that this isn't always the best practice.
"Remember, a negative COVID test may be a false negative, or may reflect the child’s infection status only on that particular day," Dr. Dooley says. "A negative test does not ensure that a child won’t develop COVID during the time period of the activity. In addition, requiring testing for children before participating in an activity may create equity issues, as some children and families may not have good access to testing in their community."
Instead of testing, Dr. Krugman says screening for symptoms "isn’t perfect, but is more practicable" than pre-activity testing. "In general, the more that all the participants can stay in their homes before an activity — for the two preceding weeks — the more likely that they will arrive at the activity without being infected or contagious," he tells Romper.
How is food service handled?
CDC recommendations for youth and summer camps suggests that campers bring their own food when possible, eat in smaller groups, and use disposable utensils and dishes. Although this may not be an option for overnight camps, day camps may require your child to pack their own lunch or snack. Be sure to ask your child's activity leader if you need to send food for them and what the protocol is for food service during overnight camp.
You'll also want to inquire about where and how children will eat. Dr. Dooley explains that "outdoor dining is best, where children can maintain some distance from each other, especially since they have to take masks off in order to eat."
How will social distancing be enforced?
"Is the activity taking place in a location where children can maintain some physical distance for each other? For summer activities, outdoor is best," Dr. Dooley explains. "If it is indoors, what is the configuration of the space and how are they able to maintain some physical distance between participants?"
Dr. Dooley tells Romper that parents can inquire about the number of children participating in the activity and whether or not the number will be limited to maintain physical distance. Additionally, she says you'll want to ensure there is enough adult supervision for the number of children in attendance to enforce safety measures.
How many children will attend?
In addition to asking how children will maintain physical distance from one another, parents should ask how many children will attend the activity. "The larger the gathering, the greater the risk," Dr. Krugman tells Romper. "The location of the activity is also very important — being inside carries a much greater risk than being outside."
What type of activities will the kids do?
When it comes to mitigating risks, Dr. Krugman tells Romper that "the type of activity matters as well." For example, parents can ask camp facilitators if there will be singing, yelling, or extensive contact between participants. "All of those carry higher the risk of transmission of COVID-19," Dr. Krugman says.
Will kids use the same supplies?
Much like school, art supplies like crayons and scissors are often shared by groups of children during summer activities. Even outdoor activities like gardening camps might see children sharing shovels or touching the same tools.
"What are the cleaning protocols for any equipment used in the activity? For example, it’s recommended that children have their own supplies, such as art materials, for some activities," Dr. Dooley explains. "Are the frequently touched surfaces, such as door handles and toys, frequently cleaned?"
If you're concerned about sharing supplies, be sure to inquire before your kid heads to camp. You can also ask about sending your own supplies if that would make you feel more comfortable.
How do you screen participants for symptoms?
Dr. Dooley suggests that parents ask the following two quetions to determine screening procedures and how they are reported during the activity: "Does the organization have a protocol in place for activity leaders to report any COVID-like symptoms and then a plan to notify families if there may be a possible COVID contact?" and "Does the organization require families to do temperature screenings either at home or upon arrival to the activity?"
Have the other children been exposed?
Dr. Krugman encourages parents to inquire about the risk-factors of other camp attendees. "What risk behaviors have the other children been engaging in before the activity, such as have they been to parties or have they been limiting their possible exposure to COVID-19," he explains.
Although you may not be able to get this information directly from the activity coordinator, having the conversation with other parents prior to attending can be helpful to scope out potential risks.
Danielle Dooley, M.D., M.Phil., medical director of Community Affairs and Population Health at Children’s National Hospital Dr. Scott Krugman, M.D., MS, FAAP, vice chair of pediatrics, Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore