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Will Summer Camps Be Open? Coronavirus Guidelines Signal Big Changes

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As the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus continues, many parents are likely wondering if summer camps will be open this year and, if they are, will it be safe to send their kids. While there's no fast or simple answer to whether summer camps will be open, coronavirus guidelines recently issued by the American Camp Association (ACA) and the YMCA shed some light on what things might look like at camps that do decide to welcome campers this summer.

From day camps that take on only a handful of children at one time to overnight camps that welcome hundreds all at once, summer camps across the country are grappling with the question of reopening amid a public health pandemic. To help summer camps decide if and how they should continue with operations, the ACA, which boasts more than 3,700 camps and nearly 10,900 programs, joined the YMCA, which runs more than 10,000 day camps and at least 315 overnight camps, in releasing detailed guidance on screening, cleaning, and safety protocols.

"Managing communicable disease in camps is a common practice that has been successfully addressed in the past by health professionals, some of whom are physicians and nurses on camp premises," the guidance reads. "Implementing such good public health practices at camps helps minimize the potential that communicable illness will occur (prevention) and includes strategies to use when an outbreak occurs (response)."

Recommendations include pre-screening campers prior to their arrival by having parents track and record the child's temperature for 14 days along with other potential symptoms of COVID-19, such as cough, shortness of breath, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, nausea, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, or vomiting. Both day camps and overnight camps are then recommended to screen staff and children in person for fever and other symptoms as they arrive. Camps are also encouraged to continue such health screenings on a regular and ongoing basis.

Anyone suspected to have COVID-19 symptoms should be given a face mask and isolated from others. Camp health staff are directed to wear an N95 respirator or other face mask along with a face shield or eye protection, and disposable gloves and gown when interacting with the potentially sick individual. If an individual is found to have COVID-19, confirmed or suspected, camps are recommended to immediately carry out contact tracing in an effort to identify anyone the individual may have had contact with in the days prior so they can be monitored.

Along with recommending camps adhere to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's cleaning and disinfecting practices outlined for K-12 schools and child care programs, the ACA and the YMCA also encourages camps to follow best practices. These include cleaning and disinfecting communal spaces such as eating areas or restrooms between groups. They also note that camps may need to adjust the timing of group activities to allow disinfectant to remain on treated surfaces between groups for the appropriate amount of time.

As for social distancing, the ACA and YMCA's guidance directs camps to implement policies that will enable them to maintain small group sizes and limit the mixing of those groups. For overnight camps that traditionally welcome hundreds of campers, they suggest forming smaller "households" of campers and staff that would then essentially "shelter in place" together for the duration of the camp program, meaning field trips and other activities that take place outside of the camp could be cancelled. Other recommendations included staggering meals, arrivals, and pick ups.

The American Camp Association has directed any summer camp or other youth program that is unsure of whether they should open or not to the CDC's camp-specific decision tree tool. It directs any camp that feels it is not ready to comply with all applicable state and local orders or screen children and employees for potential COVID-19 symptoms and exposure to not open.

While the status of summer camps is likely to differ from state to state based on infection rates and current government regulations, TODAY reported that "a majority" of YMCA day camps are planning to open this summer as long as they can operate in compliance with all state and local guidance. Additionally, according to TODAY, some YMCA camps have opted to host their sessions virtually or shorten sessions.

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.