Will Summer Camps Happen In 2021?

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

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.

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.”

The American Camp Association

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 is 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, per the ACA website, the CDC has also released a decision-making guide to help guide summer camps in their decision-making process on whether or not to open. The guiding principles in the guide include what scenarios are the lowest risk to what are the highest risks.

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.

“While we cannot predict how quickly the vaccine will become widely available, we are hopeful that our camp staff will have the opportunity to be vaccinated before the summer," 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.”

If you’re considering sending your child to a camp, it’s probably a good idea to ensure they’re following all the guidelines from the ACA resources page, as well as the CDC’s decision-making tool when it comes to running a summer camp.

“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.”