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Helpful Summer Camp Updates During COVID-19

Can kids attend camp this summer? Detailed guidelines issued by the American Camp Association and the YMCA recommend extensive cleaning protocols and safety measures to protect kids during the pandemic.

By Scott Stump via NBC News TODAY

Summer camp is going to look a lot different this year as parents weigh whether to send their children during the coronavirus pandemic.

Thousands of camps are making numerous changes emphasizing health and safety, which could mean wearing masks when appropriate and daily cleaning of sports gear and aquatic equipment.

Tom Rosenberg, the president and CEO of the American Camp Association, and Paul McEntire, the COO of YMCA of the USA (Y-USA), spoke to Savannah Guthrie exclusively on TODAY about the joint release of detailed guidelines by their organizations on Monday outlining best policies that camps can use to keep children safe during the pandemic.

The thought of a group of 6- or 7-year-olds excitedly gathering at camp and practicing social distancing or rigid hygiene may not be easy to envision, but the guide provides a host of details about everything from pool safety to cleaning life jackets to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Parents can definitely expect to see safety as the first and foremost focus at camp this summer,” Rosenberg said. “For camp directors, the health and safety of our campers is paramount.”

About 20 million children, adolescents and adults enjoy roughly 14,000 camps across the country every year between day camps and overnight camps. The YMCA runs about 10,000 day camps on its own, as well as 325 overnight camps.

A majority of the YMCA day camps are planning to open this summer as long as they are in compliance with state and local guidance, while some overnight camps have decided not to open this summer, according to McEntire.

Some camps may have shortened sessions and others may be conducting the camp virtually, according to Rosenberg.

“There are going to be lots of different choices, but not necessarily looking typical this summer,” Rosenberg said.

A host of changes are recommended by the guide, including regular sanitizing, hand-washing, social distancing, staggered meals, smaller group activities and staggered arrivals and pick-ups.

The guide put together by a panel of experts is basically a detailed expansion on the guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding summer camps during the pandemic.

The recommendations also include routine cleaning of all outdoor equipment after each use and providing campers with their own equipment like tennis rackets or bows and arrows for the duration of camp if possible.

When it comes to pool safety, the guidelines state that there is no current evidence that coronavirus can be spread in a pool or water play area, so properly disinfecting with chlorine or bromine “will likely inactivate the virus in the water.”

Other guidelines include physical distancing while swimming, keeping activities confined to the same group of campers and same instructors and regularly cleaning and disinfecting shared equipment like oars and life jackets.

Some camps may also plan to screen campers ahead of time with two weeks of temperature checks while also determining if they have been in contact with someone who tested positive. Campers also could be screened if they have traveled to a hotspot like New York City, which has been the center of a rare and potentially deadly condition linked to COVID-19 in children.

Whether campers are given COVID-19 tests is up to the local and state governments and the resources available, according to the experts. Overnight camps are urged to have places to isolate any campers who could have been exposed to COVID-19, while day camps are recommended to have parents come pick the child up immediately.

There also are many parents who may not have much of a choice when it comes to sending their child to camp this summer.

“A lot of parents have choices whether to send their child to camp or not, but many others don’t,” McEntire said. “They utilize overnight camp and even more day camp as child care because they have to go to work, and so we feel a responsibility to design that so that they can be as safe as possible, so children, when they’re with us, have fun, be outdoors and allow that parent to go to work.”

Check PLAYGROUND’s 2020 Summer Camp Guide for detailed updates on how individual camps are adjusting their protocols.

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