10 questions to ask before signing up for summer camp: An epidemiologist’s advice
Are you considering camp or other special programs to keep your kids moving and engaged this summer? Many of the programs that closed last summer due to COVID-19 are planning to be back up and running this year. But are they safe?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided guidance on steps camps should take to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“I understand firsthand the challenge parents face in keeping their kids entertained in active and educational ways during the summer. Many people have been asking about the safety of group programs and activities as it relates to COVID-19,” said Dr. Emily Godbout, epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist. “The answer is that they can be safe with the proper precautions in place and there are some important questions you can ask to help make this determination.”
COVID-19 safety questions to consider before kids attend summer programs
1.Are masks required?
Masks continue to be one of the best measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Because the vaccines are not approved for kids under 12, masks are particularly important for this age group. While there will likely be situations when masks will need to be removed – such as eating or swimming – well-fitting, multi-layer, clean face coverings should be worn at all other times.
2.Will most activities take place outside?
Nothing says summertime like fun in the sun (with sun protection!), which is great because outside is the safest place to be when it comes to COVID. It’s also best to do activities that may involve producing respiratory droplets, like singing or cheering, outside with at least six feet of physical distance between participants. Close contact sports and activities should be limited, even outside.
3. Will there be daily health screenings?
Ideally, the camp will ask attendees to monitor for signs of illness in advance and not attend if symptoms are present. Daily health checks, including temperature screenings and symptom reporting, for staff and campers are also recommended.
4. What happens if someone gets sick?
If symptoms are identified, the camp should have a plan in place to mitigate the spread of infection. Is there a safe and supervised place to isolate individuals with symptoms from other campers and staff? Is there a policy for how quickly they must be picked up from camp? Will close contacts be identified and notified?
5. How will activities be modified to allow for physical distancing?
In addition to being outdoors as much as possible, a best practice is to group kids and staff into cohorts that can essentially act as their “family unit” while at camp. Smaller groups better allow for social distancing and help minimize exposure should someone get sick. Use of shared space should be staggered, with cleaning between cohorts. It’s still important for individuals within each cohort to wear masks as much as possible.
6.Will all adults be vaccinated?
While organizations may not be able to promise that 100% of their team members will be vaccinated, it’s important to know that they urge vaccination and provide opportunities for staff to get the COVID vaccine. An organization that is dedicated to the health and safety of its staff is likely to have similar dedication to its campers and customers. Masks should still be required for all team members providing programming for kids, even if they’re vaccinated.
7.What are the cleaning procedures?
Check with the camp about practices for cleaning and disinfecting. They should be able to provide information about specific schedules for sanitizing materials and surfaces. Similarly, how often will kids and staff be washing their hands? Are sinks and hand sanitizer readily available?
8.What communication channels are in place?
Reminders in the form of signage, visual markers to help with physical distancing, announcements, videos, etc. can help reinforce the expectation and importance of infection prevention measures. It’s also helpful to know up front how the camp plans to communicate with families about exposures, closures and other time-sensitive information.
9.How will these practices be enforced?
It’s one thing to have these processes in place, but they must be enforced to be effective. Is there a point person or team assigned to make sure campers and staff are following all the COVID safety procedures? Can campers feel comfortable speaking up when they notice unsafe behavior?
10. What’s best for your child?
Many factors are involved in a child’s social, emotional and physical health. You know your child and are best equipped to make the right decisions for your family. If you have concerns about the policies or procedures of a specific camp, consider finding another option that aligns with your comfort level.
In addition to the COVID-19 safety questions above, it is important to ensure that a camp or special program has other safety procedures (such as water and sun safety) and emergency aid measures (find out about CPR and first aid certifications) in place to make sure your child is secure and protected.