Group of school children with teacher on field trip in nature, learning science.

Will Summer Camps Happen In 2021?

Or is Camp Wanna-Have-More-Screentime taking place in all of our living rooms again?

Originally Published: 

I was so envious of kids who got to attend summer camp every year. Bunking in a cabin with a group of friends every night, playing games, doing crafts, jumping into giant lakes? That's a kid's dream, right? I had to settle with watching Heavyweights and Salute Your Shorts all summer, but I hope my son gets to experience this wonderful summer tradition soon. But as far as kids old enough to go this year, will summer camps happen in 2021? Thanks to COVID, it feels like nothing is certain. And many parents are already trying to make plans for their children in the summer months for child care, to curb boredom, and to maybe — finally — be able to socialize again.

Camp Openings In Summer 2021 Depend On Location

The answer to this question is, of course, not a simple yes or no — as nothing is during the pandemic. And it really depends on the types of camps and your location, per the American Camp Association (ACA). “Every camp is different and will ultimately assess their ability to operate camp this summer subject to each state’s/local county’s rules for camp in the COVID-19 environment,” the website noted. “Just as the virus is being handled differently in different states, expect to see varying state and local approaches to 2021 camp operations depending on a myriad of factors. It will likely be a patchwork environment with state and local regulations at the core. That means each camp ultimately needs to make its own choices about camp this year.”

Summer Camp Safety Field Guide

Additionally, a blog post from October 2020 on the ACA website reported, "As of October 2020, we believe camps should continue consistent implementation of both cohort strategies and non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to limit the introduction of infected persons and the spread of COVID-19 within camp ... Testing, if accessible and affordable, might be an additional tool available to camp in 2021. While expensive and difficult to access in many places, we believe testing for pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic conditions will become more accessible in the coming months."

Rockbrook Camp for Girls director Jeff Carter tells Romper they are hoping to reopen this summer with safety precautions in place, and they are using a field guide that the ACA has released to help camps all over the United States function safely and optimally this summer. The ACA even has resources for folks trying to run their camps virtually as well.

Additionally, a rep for The Girl Scouts of America tells Romper in an email that they’re also using the ACA field guide, going by CDC guidelines, and doing regular check-ins with medical staff versed in “camp nursing.”

“Areas where camp is taking place in-person, capacity will be running at 50%, including both day and resident camp,” the Girl Scouts of America spokesperson says. “In addition to in-person day/resident campers, girls still have the option to participate in Virtual Summer Camp and ‘camp in a box’ where a subscription style box will be sent to girls every week with activities for camp at home.”

FatCamera/E+/Getty Images

The CDC Decision-Making Guide For Camps

The CDC has also released a decision-making guide to help summer camps figure out whether or not to open. The guiding principles include what scenarios are the lowest risk to what are the highest risks, and because things have changed since the beginning of the year, the CDC has updated their guidelines a couple of times. Before, the guidelines suggested all campers, both inside and outside, should remain masked up. Now, the guidelines recommend that if all campers and counselors/adults are vaccinated, everyone can return to their normal activities without masks. Masks outdoors, even for unvaccinated individuals, are no longer recommended, and they are encouraged for indoors.

The guide also includes a list of behaviors camp administrators need to implement in order to open safely. Strategies include educating staff, campers, and families about staying home when they’re not at camp, and encouraging employees and campers to stay home if they’re sick or had close contact with someone who had COVID. The guidelines also state that the administrators need to “teach and reinforce hand-washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and increase monitoring to ensure adherence among campers and staff,” and “encourage staff and campers to cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue.”

There is additional information on how to maintain a healthy environment at the camp, how to maintain healthy operations, how to prepare for when someone gets sick, as well as special considerations for overnight camps in the CDC decision-making guide. One of the big points suggested is that camps should also make “cohorts” of campers to help keep people together in their own groups to help minimize any kind of germ spreading.

Summer Camps & Vaccinations

As far as camps changing their policies as vaccination rates improve, not a lot is changing there, since kids under 12 can’t be vaccinated yet. However, Carter says, "Our plans for this summer include pre-camp testing for staff and campers, keeping the campers in smaller ‘family’ groups much of the time, requiring mask-wearing outside of the family groups, adding several outdoor dining locations around camp, and expanding our nursing coverage.”

The ACA field guide now includes updates regarding vaccines, as well as links to updates from the CDC recommendations about getting adult staff vaccinated. The CDC guide includes ways to promote vaccinations in your organization, materials for communicating with your employees — digital and print, and even printable stickers.

If you’re considering sending your child to a camp, it’s probably a good idea to ensure the camp is following all the guidelines from the ACA resources page, as well as the CDC’s decision-making tool, and vaccination recommendations when it comes to running a summer camp. If your child is over the age of 12, some camps may require vaccines.

“While there will be some adjustment from our usual routine, the core of what makes summer camp a powerful experience for children will remain,” Carter says. “For the last century, families have relied on summer camps to complement and extend the learning that happens during the school year, and this year, camps will provide an even greater role in helping to fill those deficits that this pandemic has imposed upon children.”

This article was originally published on