Summer Camp Safety: Is it Worth the Risk?

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By Shonda Dudlicek

Jackie Spinner hasn’t had child care for her sons Samir, 8, and Rafi, 5, since March, when sheltering in place began in Chicago. A college professor, she’s taught remotely and online since then.

Usually the Spinners travel to Philadelphia each summer to stay with family so Samir can attend autism camp. This year, the three of them planned to be in Morocco for the summer to complete the adoption of a third boy. But Morocco’s borders remain closed. The summer camp Spinner signed her boys up for at Lincoln Park Zoo was canceled and another day camp is still on…but she struggles with sending them.

“Except to ride bikes and scooters around the neighborhood, we haven’t been out. I haven’t been to the grocery store. We’ve done all online pickup. As a single parent, I can’t take them, or rather don’t feel comfortable taking them, inside a store with me. So we just haven’t done it,” Spinner said.

Are summer camps safe this year? Dr. Shawn Nasseri, an ear, nose and throat specialist in Beverly Hills, Calif., discusses precautions families can take if they do decide to send kids to summer camp:

Q. What precautions should you take for your child?

A. Social distancing and guidelines can be difficult if not impossible for children to understand and maintain, but try to instill the need for a consistent hygiene practice. When kids come home from camp make sure that they are immediately washing their hands, removing their shoes and changing their clothing. Ideally they should take a warm shower and they can also consider rinsing their nose with a saline mist or spray. This helps to wash away much of what they had been exposed to during the day.

Q. What should the camp or school be doing to protect your child?

A. Consistent screenings of each child need to take place 2-3 times a day as a child can look healthy at 8 a.m. and have a fever at 2 p.m. Segregate sick children from healthy ones immediately. Employees should also be checked throughout the day, including temperature checks upon entry to the camp. The infirmary should have a low density of students so they do not transmit or cross-contaminate COVID, the flu, strep throat or more to other children.

Consistent healthy hygiene practices should be in place such as hand washing, accessible hand sanitizer, and employees and children wearing a face mask when indoors. Shared surfaces should be regularly cleaned and disinfected. Activities should be adjusted to limit sharing of toys, supplies or recreational equipment. Social distancing can be implemented more easily in larger areas, or by limiting group size or having a staggered schedule.

Q. What recreational activities are the safest and what should be avoided? 

A. Outdoor areas usually allow for more open spaces where you can keep better distance. Respiratory droplets and aerosols generally carry away from other people, although people can tend to lose the understanding of upwind and downwind when outside. You can be 6 feet apart, but with the wind blowing up/down it is still a risk if someone sneezes or coughs close to you. Anything out in the open right now makes sense to stay 5-15 feet apart with a larger distance if during vigorous activity [like] yelling, singing…as this can carry any virus farther.

Social-distanced activities like tennis and golf are the safest, or water activities with one person like kayaking, paddle boarding and sailing. Space out swimmers and limit group sizes. Contact sports should be avoided such as basketball and football.

The Centers for Disease Control offers specific suggestions for youth and summer camps. According to the CDC, the more people a camper or staff member interacts with, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread. More information can be found here: 

Spinner ultimately decided to eat the registration costs for day camp, saying she doesn’t feel comfortable expanding their circle that widely due to the risks.

“Rafi has asthma and I’ve read that people with developmental disorders have been more impacted when they’ve gotten COVID,” she said.

“But my biggest precaution really has been because I’m a single parent. I can’t afford to get sick, even a little sick. There’s no one to take care of the boys. In more typical times, I have friends and family who would step in. We have a big village. But I can’t imagine anyone would come into a house with a person sick with COVID. I do have a plan that involves my sister and some dear friends, just in case. But it’s been easier to be safe.”



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