Ropes courses, waterfall hikes, cabins in the woods—summertime means summer camp for many out-of-school kids. But this year, the vast majority of camps are closed due to the pandemic. For camps that buck the trend and welcome children, things will look very different.
Nationwide, the summer camp picture is coming into sharper focus. Many of the 15,000-plus summer camps are opting to close because of health concerns surrounding the coronavirus—or because of delays in receiving guidelines from officials.
New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Oregon have banned overnight camps entirely. More than 20 states still haven’t issued guidance, according to the American Camp Association.
It’s not just a loss for kids, who will miss out on making friends, becoming independent, and developing outdoor skills. It’s a devastating financial loss for camps. Some won’t ever recover. Experts estimate that camps will lose $16 billion.
Even camps that do jump through the hoops to open are going to have a tough time. They must confront a hodgepodge of safety rules for testing, quarantining, social distancing, sanitizing, and isolation areas.
In Maine, only 20 of 110 licensed overnight camps are opening. Guidelines require staff and counselors to quarantine or receive a negative test result. Campers also must quarantine or get tested, unless they’re from an exempted state. They must be broken up into smaller groups to make social distancing possible. There are rigid rules for sanitizing and isolation if someone falls ill.
Maine’s Camp Winnebago was founded during the so-called Spanish Flu over a century ago. It has weathered all manner of health scares from polio to the swine flu. It wasn’t about to let the coronavirus stop the fun.
Camp began last week at Winnebago. Campers got tested five days before arriving and must be tested again five days later. The camp installed additional hand-washing stations, and cabin hand sanitizer posts. Face coverings are required in large groups.
Only about 80% of summer slots are filled. Camp Winnebago purposefully kept some slots unfilled to create a separate isolation area if someone does show signs of sickness, Lilienthal says.
The camp property was largely closed off after the arrival of 140 campers. There will be no high-intensity, close-contact activities like basketball or soccer until an initial waiting period has passed.
“We believe that we can run a program safely and with the health of the campers at the top of our minds,” Camp Winnebago owner Andy Lilienthal says. “We’re taking this extremely seriously.”
Camp Winona in Maine is opening on a smaller scale too. “Camp directors are risk managers, every single day of the camp. We’re also innovative and tenacious,” co-owner Laura Ordway says. “I know that there are challenges, but we’ve figured out the safety side of things. Now we have to figure out the logistics so our campers really thrive.”
(Cabins await campers at the Camp Winnebago summer camp in Fayette, Maine. AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)