Coronavirus Crisis Interrupts Plans For Many Summer Camps

May 15, 2020
Originally published on May 18, 2020 1:17 am
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Many parents shudder while wondering if schools will open this fall. Is it safe if schools open? And what on earth to do if they don't? Even before that moment of decision, parents face choices about summer camp. NPR's Tovia Smith reports some overnight camps contend they may be able to operate safely this summer.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: It's hard in any context. But as many see it, the idea of social distancing at sleep-away camp is preposterous.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Cabin 7 straight from heaven.

SMITH: Video posted by vlogger Katie DeCort (ph) last summer shows campers eating, sleeping and literally rolling around together.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Katie. Come on, Katie.

SMITH: Little wonder some sleep-away camps have already surrendered.

MADDIE PRINCE: Today we found out that there will actually be no camp this year. It makes me sad.

SMITH: Eleven-year-old Maddie Prince (ph) says camp is her happy place.

MADDIE: You don't have any technology. And it's really easy to just forget all of your worries. And I love being with my friends.

DAYNA HARDIN: I would argue that kids need camp this summer more than ever before.

SMITH: Dayna Hardin is president of CampGroup, which runs 13 overnight camps from Maine to Michigan that are still hopeful they can open. Hardin says it may be just what the doctor ordered for kids after months of isolation and anxiety. And, she says, kids may actually be safer from infection at overnight camp.

HARDIN: We are looking at this like we are the castle. Our kids are going to enter the castle. And we are going to pull up the drawbridge. And we will be our isolated community.

SMITH: For camps that open, that would mean no field trips, no visiting days, no socials or sports tournaments with other camps. And in-camp activities would change.

TOM ROSENBERG: For example, games like tag are not going to be in vogue this summer.

SMITH: Tom Rosenberg, head of the American Camp Association, says expect no-contact activities instead, also constant disinfecting, more distancing for eating and sleeping. And campers would be split up into smaller units.

ROSENBERG: These will be like families where within that family, they will be able to socialize somewhat normally. But between the family circles, there will be physical distancing.

SMITH: And masks, he says. Some camps say they'd only open if they can test everyone for COVID-19 before and during the session. Others would rely on taking temperatures every day, a prospect that some parents find irresponsible.

THENA BARUCH: That keeps me up at night.

SMITH: Physician Thena Baruch (ph) says she will not allow her kids to go to camp.

BARUCH: It only takes one person to be shedding virus when they're completely asymptomatic. My concern is that this could turn into something like the nursing home pandemic, where it just spreads exponentially.

SMITH: The CDC yesterday issued its recommendations for camps, including social distancing, screening and extra disinfecting. The agency also directed camps to follow state and local rules. But in most cases, camps are still waiting to hear what those will be. A few jurisdictions have banned overnight camps. But most are still wrestling with the issue, including Massachusetts, according to Governor Charlie Baker.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHARLIE BAKER: The tough part is some of this stuff that involves the joys of being a kid, figuring out some way to do this where you have at least enough rules to make sure it can be done safely, but you don't destroy the whole spontaneous nature of what those are supposed to be about.

SMITH: The prospect gives pause to even diehard campers like Sasha Fine (ph), who was looking forward to finally being the oldest at her camp this summer.

SASHA FINE: Like, trust me, I want camp more than anyone. But, like, we can't have camp like this. It's, like, taunting us.

SMITH: Rather than a compromised 2020, Fine is hoping for a normal last summer at camp in 2021. Tovia Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.