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How Summer Camp Directors Are Adapting to CDC Protocols

Kids arriving at a soccer camp with face masks.

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Key Takeaways

  • The Centers for Disease Control released COVID-19 guidance for summer camps and group activities for children.
  • Outdoor activities and small groups should be a priority for safety.
  • Many camps are now offering rapid COVID-19 testing to curb the spread of the virus among children and staff.

As summer approaches, parents are trying to find ways to keep their kids busy. Day camps and sports leagues would normally do the trick. However, with authorization for a child-safe COVID-19 vaccine still months away, parents are considering their choices more carefully.

Luckily, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released guidance outlining what a safe summer camp experience should look like. According to the CDC, group summer camps and sports can be conducted safely, as long as they're small, masks are worn, and space is maintained.

Masking Up

Camps often opt for outdoor activities, which helps reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. However, even with an outdoor setting, the CDC says children should wear well-fitted masks except when eating, drinking, or swimming.

Sara DeLucia, guided adventures success manager for the Appalachian Mountain Club (ACM), tells Verywell that staying outdoors offers plenty of flexibility and mask-free time for kids enrolled in camps. The organization offers day camps and overnight backpacking programs.

"We try to do as much outdoor program as we can," DeLucia says. "When we are doing a hands-on activity where they have to be close to each other, they are masking. But if we are hiking and they can stay far enough apart, they don't have to wear them."

DeLucia says that campers are always required to have masks on hand, in case social distancing isn't possible, even when outdoors.

Keeping Groups Small

Since group activities are the lifeblood of summer camps, it's impossible and counterproductive to keep kids completely apart. Instead, the CDC recommends keeping groups small and consistent. By maintaining the same small group of campers and counselors, any case of infection will be easier to contain.

Jeff Carter, director of the Rockbrook Camp for Girls, located in the mountains of North Carolina, tells Verywell that they are keeping groups small to monitor the campers for symptoms while still letting them engage in activities.

"We'll have small groups (cohorts)," Carter says via email. "We'll also do extra hand washing and some pre-camp testing. Overall though, we will still swim, hike, and ride horses."

DeLucia says that AMC is shifting to single sleeping arrangements. While they used to allow kids of the same gender to share tents, all campers will sleep in their own single-occupancy tent this season.

"Right now, we are trying to keep distance between people and try to keep cohorts together," DeLucia says. "Sibling groups and class groups are kept together at the same table."

Frequent Testing Becomes Routine

Both DeLucia and Carter are utilizing testing before overnight camps. Rapid tests are now easily available, giving the 2021 summer season leg up over last summer.

Based on CDC recommendations, many camps are requiring negative COVID-19 tests within 72 hours of arrival. Once there, rapid antigen tests are used to check campers and staff when needed.

Mary Rodgers, PhD, principal scientist at Abbott—maker of the BinaxNOW™ COVID-19 Antigen Self Test—tells Verywell that the availability of reliable self-administered rapid tests offers the ability to detect infections before they spread, keeping campers safe. YMCA summer camps are utilizing BinaxNow tests.

While not all camps require testing before arrival, Rodgers says that having a readily available rapid test puts the power in the parents' court.

"Regardless of if camps are requiring testing, we now have this opportunity to do our own assurance testing," Rodgers says. "It's easy enough for anyone to follow the instructions, and it makes it easy to do it quickly, reliably, and have confidence in the results."

What This Means For You

Although virtual learning or recreation options remain the safest ones for unvaccinated children and teens, some camps and sports may be relatively safe. Outdoor activities are the best, whether day camps, self-lead programs, or overnight camps as long as leadership is keeping group sizes small and monitoring potential outbreaks both in the area and among the campers through testing or symptom checks.

Team Sports and Dance Can Continue

For those who want to enroll their children in a group activity, many sports leagues and dance camps are continuing to follow CDC guidelines released in late December. Small groups are encouraged, and intermingling with other groups should only occur during actual gameplay.

Dance camps and classes offer slightly different risks than team sports. Although social distancing is possible in most cases because of reduced class sizes, most camps and classes take place inside making proper ventilation critical. Parents should ask about symptom checks, class sizes, and proper airflow. All dancers should wear masks at all times indoors.

With sports and dance, commonly touched surfaces and common spaces such as locker rooms and dressing rooms may be a concern. Sanitizing barres, balls, and bats should be a priority.

And if you don't feel comfortable sending your child to in-person classes or camps just yet, there are still many virtual options available, like art workshops through the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami or on-your-feet magic classes.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Guidance for operating youth and summer camps during COVID-19. Updated April 24, 2021.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Considerations for youth sports administrators. Updated December 31, 2020.