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Summer Camps Are Rebounding After A Year Without Kids

A summer camp monitor looks after children (Philippe Huguen/AFP via Getty Images)
A summer camp monitor looks after children (Philippe Huguen/AFP via Getty Images)

While summer break usually signals the start of day and sleepaway camps, the pandemic threw those plans into disarray for many school-weary kids and their parents in 2020.

Tom Rosenberg, president and CEO of the American Camp Association, says this year he’s hoping things will be a little different for families. He says the past 16 months were difficult for kids who underwent academic learning loss and social disconnection from their peers.

Opening camps this year would serve as a chance to regain some of that time lost.

“After a disrupted summer last year and disrupted school year, kids are going to be able to be outside and having fun with their friends,” Rosenberg says. “We’re giving them a chance to regain some of that lost humanity.”

Before the pandemic, the association served close to 26 million school aged children with about 1.2 million seasonal counselors. But last year saw a major hit, with only 18% overnight camps and 60% of day camps operating, Rosenberg says.

This summer, he says, the majority of camps will be open.

But they still won’t be running at full capacity. Instead, camps are opting to keep reduced capacity with COVID-19 safety measures in mind.

Last year, Rosenberg says campers weren’t their usual selves due to the effects of the pandemic. Campers were out of shape, emotionally wired and more homesick than usual.

“Camps really adjusted their schedules to allow more time for kids to be together and talk, time for stretching, exercising,” he says, “kind of getting back into their bodies, if you will.”

He adds that parents need to understand how camps will help their individual kids this year and learn what safety protocols the camps will use, especially as most children heading off to camp are not 12 years old and older, and therefore, can’t get vaccinated.

The association was able to conduct research into the camps that showed using strict mitigation strategists helped lead to successful camp operations. One study conducted with 90,000 participants resulted in 102 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

For kids 12 and older who are able to receive the Pfizer shot, Rosenberg says it’s something camps are encouraging families to discuss with their pediatricians. Along with that, camps are encouraging staff to become fully vaccinated and offering more widely-available testing, especially for sleepaway camps.

“If there is a camper or staff person in a cohort who is symptomatic, typically that whole cohort will be quarantined,” Rosenberg says. “But in this case, if they are [a] fully vaccinated individual, they’ll be able to continue camp.”

Julia Corcoran produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Jill Ryan. Jeannette Muhammad adapted this interview for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.