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How will camps open this summer?

There is light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel, as promising clinical trials indicate there will be a vaccine readily available in 2021. We don’t know yet how widely distributed it will be before camp begins nor whether it will be safe for children. But it provides us all hope during a challenging time, as all indications point toward things getting worse this winter before they improve.

Given all the unknowns of the pandemic, it is understandable to feel wary of any guarantee right now. So when we say we feel certain that camp will open in 2021, we get that our families may be more circumspect. People are cautiously optimistic (or pessimistic, as the case may be) about every aspect of their lives now, from how long their children will be able to attend school in person, to whether or not they will actually be able to go to camp in 2021. 

What we have learned, essentially, is to live with uncertainty. Rather than ask when things will get back to normal, we have accepted that the only thing in our control is to make the best possible decisions at the moment, using the best practices we have at hand. And what we know now, in talking to camps that operated successful sessions last summer, is how to put policies in place that will allow us to open safely in the coming year.

How will camp open in 2021?

Our knowledge about Covid, as well as improvements in therapeutics and the availability of a vaccine, are continually changing. But based on what some camps were able to do last summer and what some schools are doing successfully this year, we are prepared to take all of the necessary safety measures to ensure a wonderful summer for our campers. 

Here are some of the protocols you may see Camp Walt Whitman and other camps practice in 2021:

Camp will start early—at home.

To ensure that camp gets off to a safe start, we will ask our campers and our staff to practice caution in the weeks leading up to camp. This may mean refraining from social activities and limiting exposure to others to ensure we achieve as much of a bubble as possible prior to arriving at camp.

Staff will arrive early.

While our staff always arrives on campus well before camp starts, we will ask that they arrive earlier this year to establish a safe bubble.

Testing will take place before and at camp.

Testing will also start at home and continue at camp. We will ask our staff and campers to submit a negative PCR test prior to arrival, test all our staff and campers upon arrival and again days after arrival.

Cohorting to limit exposure.

The multiple tests will allow us to widen our bubble gradually, and determine when it is appropriate, after all tests come back negative, to remove masks.

Expansion of infirmary and medical staff.

Our medical staff will increase to allow for daily temperature checks and our infirmary will expand to include a separate health center for suspected Covid cases and rapid Covid testing for anyone who exhibits any symptoms.

Sanitation will increase.

Campers will use the bathrooms in their cabins only, we will hire more staff to clean and sanitize buildings and equipment more often, and frequent hand washing will be the new normal.

Dining will be different.

We’ll revamp our dining hall to allow for more outdoor dining and have staff serve campers.

Campus will be closed.

We will create a safe and secure bubble from which campers and staff will not leave unless going to a destination where we are the only occupants. If any staff must leave, we will require them to submit to more frequent testing.

How do we know these practices will keep our campers safe?

Camp Robin Hood, the only overnight camp in New Hampshire that opened last summer (and where we sent our own kids), employed these general practices and found that not only did they keep their 400+ community Covid-free, their overnight infirmary visits dropped from an average of 90 nights a summer to just 1 (non-Covid related) two-day stay. 

Last summer, Lake of the Woods & Greenwoods Camps in Michigan employed similar safety measures and also experienced a Covid-free summer and a similar drop in sick visits among the campers and staff.

It’s important to note, though, that being Covid-free was never a guarantee. “We were not opening on the assumption that there was not going to be Covid at camp,” said Lake of the Woods director Dana Kite. What they did, however, was create policies that would reduce their potential exposure immensely and promise to be transparent with their families every step of the way. 

The overwhelming takeaway from these directors was that all the safety measures paid off in spades. “It was the most unbelievable, incredible summer,” said Dana. “The kids were so grateful, the parents so grateful. It put everything back into perspective.”

What surprised the directors the most, however, was how eager their campers were to comply with the new measures. Rather than feeling like a burden, it was a privilege to be among their friends in their favorite place away from home. “The kids wanted so badly to be at camp they didn’t want to do anything to blow the summer,” said Camp Robin Hood director Richard Woodstein.

We plan to provide the best possible summer for our campers in 2021, too. By modeling the practices used successfully at other camps, applying the best protocols available to us come next summer, and keeping our families apprised of our health and progress at camp, we will give our campers the community and connection they desperately need after another challenging, disruptive year.

For those who long for camp to be what it has always been, we believe these changes will allow us to have a summer camp experience that might look different but will feel very much like the one children have always had. Our top priority is doing whatever it takes to maintain our mission to create a safe and nurturing environment where our campers can thrive and discover the best versions of themselves—even in these uncertain times. 

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