Is It Safe to Send Your Child to Summer Camp During COVID-19?

Summer camps are a favorite tradition for many kids, not to mention an important source of child care for working parents – but during the current pandemic, they come with a new set of safety questions.

Pediatrician Patricia Garcia, MD, MPH, who directs Connecticut Children’s Resident Education in Advocacy and Community Health (REACH) program, joins the blog with answers.

Find out how the camp is structured.

The more people a camper interacts with (and the longer the interactions), the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread – so local camps are the safest.

  • Lowest risk: Small groups of campers stay together all day every day, remain six feet apart and do not share objects. All campers are from the same local geographic area.
  • More risk: Campers mix between groups but stay six feet apart and do not share objects. All campers are from the same local geographic area.
  • Higher risk: Campers mix between groups and do not remain six feet apart, but are from the same geographic area.
  • Highest risk: Campers mix between groups, do not stay six feet apart and are not from the same geographic area.

Here’s what to ask about the camp’s COVID-19 precautions.

Every summer camp should be taking steps to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and other germs. These guidelines should be clearly written out and made available to parents, and the camp should have a COVID-19 point of contact – someone who has all this information and can respond to concerns.

Health Screenings and “Return to Camp” Policies

  • For children: How will the camp screen children (and even parents) for possible COVID-19 symptoms and exposure? For example, will they do a temperature check every day at drop-off? What is their policy when an illness is suspected, including when children are allowed to return (ex. how long do they need to be symptom-free, and is a COVID-19 test required?)?
  • For staff: What is the health screening policy for staff? What happens if an employee has a fever, COVID-19 symptoms or exposure, including rules for returning to work?

> Our pediatric experts have lots more tips to get you through summer! Go to our Summer Fun page.

Masks, Hand Hygiene and Clean Facilities

  • Face masks: Are staff and campers required to wear face masks? If your child is older than 2 years old, here’s how to practice using a mask at home.
  • Hand hygiene: Is there a policy for how often staff and campers must wash hands? Does the camp have soap and water readily available, and/or an adequate supply of appropriate hand sanitizer? Swallowing hand sanitizer can be toxic, so if children will be using hand sanitizer, how will they be supervised?
  • Disinfecting: Does the camp have a schedule for regularly cleaning all areas? How will surfaces, equipment and other items be disinfected?
  • Shared (or not) objects: Does the camp have adequate supplies to minimize sharing of high-touch materials, such as art supplies or other equipment, by assigning to one camper or group and disinfecting between uses?
  • Ventilation: When campers are indoors, is the camp equipped with a proper ventilation system, or able to circulate outdoor air by opening windows or doors?
  • Meals: What is the camp’s policy for food service? Are campers eating together in a communal hall or separately in their small groups? Are children bringing their own meals from home? If the camp is serving food, what steps are they taking to minimize the spread of germs – for example, are they avoiding buffets/communal dining and using prepacked food?
  • Reminders: How will the camp reinforce guidelines that children need to follow – like wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing? Will there be signs posted, daily announcements or other verbal reminders?

> Is your child new to wearing a mask, or struggling with the adjustment? Try these 7 strategies.

Physical Distancing and Minimizing Exposure

  • The number of children at camp: Will the camp operate at partial or full capacity? How many children will attend at once? Will campers all be from the same town or county? (Decreasing the geographic area decreases the risk of COVID exposure)
  • Dedicated groups and sizes: How many kids will be together in a group or activity? Will small groups be the same every day and have dedicated staff?
  • Physical distancing: How will the camp keep kids six feet apart during activities, meals and naptime? (For example, at naptime, mats or beds can be arranged so campers sleep head-to-toe at least six feet apart.) If appropriate, are outdoor activities prioritized, so social distancing can be maintained as much as possible?
  • Types of activities: What kinds of activities will campers participate in? Outdoor activities should be prioritized as they are safer. What is the camp’s plan for rainy days – will they just cancel camp? If there are indoor activities, where are they being held, and what is the air circulation like? How many campers will participate, and what is the distance between them?
  • Staggered activities:Will activities be divided and staggered so that fewer kids are eating, playing, or napping together at one time?
  • Drop-off and pick-up: Is the camp staggering times, arranging for curbside drop-off, or asking the same parent or guardian to drop off/pick up the child each day?
  • Visitors: Is the camp limiting nonessential visitors and volunteers?

Additional Questions for Overnight Camps

  • Minimizing exposure: Is the camp taking campers from various geographical areas, or are other organizations sharing camp facilities? (Local camps that do not share facilities are the safest.)
  • Sleeping arrangements: How will overnight cabins be arranged for physical distancing? Mats or beds should be spaced six feet apart, or have a physical barrier like a plastic screen between them. Campers should be arranged to sleep head-to-toe.
  • Bathrooms: What is the cleaning schedule and plan to minimize the spread of germs? Bathrooms should be disinfected morning, evening and after times of heavy use, and physical barriers like plastic screens should be installed between sinks. The camp should also have a policy – along with plenty of reminders – so that campers don’t put toothbrushes and toiletries on counter surfaces.
  • In case of COVID-19: What is the policy if a camper becomes sick? The camp should have an isolation room for anyone with COVID-19 symptoms, and a separate space for campers who have had contact with a sick camper. Parents should be aware of the process for isolation and how they will be contacted if their child becomes sick. The camp should have a transportation system in place for suspected COVID-19 infections that require immediate hospital attention.

> Interested in more articles like this from pediatric experts you trust? Get our weekly newsletter.

If you decide to send your child to camp, here’s how to prepare them.

  • Practice healthy habits with your child at home, like thorough handwashing and covering sneezes and coughs.
  • Make sure your child is comfortable wearing a mask.
  • Ask how you can support your child’s camp. They may be in need of donations, such as for disinfectants or masks, or other assistance.
  • Above all, have a plan in place to keep your child home if they’re showing any signs of sickness – even if their symptoms are very mild, like a slight fever or cold symptoms – or if someone in your household may be sick or exposed to COVID-19.

The risks and benefits of summer camp will be different for every family this summer, depending on your family’s health situation and lots of other factors. You’ll know what’s best for your family.

If you’re considering other options, check out 14 Summer Camp Alternatives During COVID-19.

 

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