Should you send your kids to sleepaway camp this summer during the pandemic?

Kids playing at summer camp
Photo via saritarobinson/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Last summer, only 18% of summer camps opened for business due to COVID-19. This year, the American Camp Association says many more have already begun 2021 registration, prompting parents to wonder if it is safe to send kids to summer camp during a pandemic. 

According to the American Camp Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is much safer than we thought for kids to attend summer camp, even during the pandemic.

Last summer, COVID-19 was still a mystery. Experts didn’t know many things about the virus, like how easily kids could get infected and whether or not the virus spread through water. Camps have now had over a year to prepare for a pandemic season and collect data that shows how to welcome campers safely. 

The CDC studied results from four Maine overnight camps with a total 1,022 attendees from 41 states and international locations. These camps “implemented a multilayered prevention and mitigation strategy that was successful in identifying and isolating three asymptomatic COVID-19 cases and preventing secondary transmission,” according to the CDC. 

Because the camps strictly followed health guidance — including asking campers to quarantine before camp, testing them multiple times upon arrival, keeping the kids in cohorts, and ensuring kids wore masks and washed their hands — the  CDC found that they protected the campers from COVID-19.  

In contrast, one camp in Georgia did not follow CDC recommendations. It was forced to close within days, after almost half of its 600 campers contracted COVID-19. The camp chose not to enforce masks for the camp attendees and allowed them to engage in high-transmission activities like singing and cheering. 

For parents seeking a safe camp to enroll their kids in, the CDC recommends that camps follow these health and safety practices:

  • Cohort groups of 12 or fewer kids are the lowest risk way of having camp. The risk of virus spread increases the more the cohorts mingle during camp. 
  • Families should prepare to quarantine two weeks before camp. 
  • Kids will have to wear masks and social distance. 
  • Camps should spend the majority of the time outside. 
  • Kids should expect to get tested before coming to camp and upon arrival. 
  • Field trips, which involve putting kids on a poorly ventilated bus in groups, are strongly discouraged.

Above all, parents should prepare for changes to the schedule. COVID-19 is an evolving situation, and parents should be flexible as camps make the best decisions based on information as it becomes available. 

Sources: ACA, CDC Camp Tips, CDC Maine Studies, CDC Georgia Study

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