Summer camps enhance children’s health
Summer camps are bouncing back this year, after the COVID regulations last year forced them to shut down or restrict activities.
Spending time at a camp gives children opportunities to socialize, learn, exercise and grow, which they need for proper mental and physical development, said Roshann L. Hooshmand, MD, Cape Cod Pediatrics, in Forestdale. Her practice treats children from nearby camps.
“It’s been a long year where kids have been home and isolated,” she said. “They need to transition back to an environment where they see peers, interact and develop social skills and relationships. We have learned this year that isolation can have detrimental effects on a child’s mental and physical health.”
Booming demand from families has resulted in full-enrollment for day and overnight camps, which must operate under state regulations and federal guidelines regarding unvaccinated campers and staff. Since vaccines have not yet been approved for kids under 12, those rules automatically affect camps accepting elementary-school-age children.
The state recommends daily health screenings for campers and their families, limiting visitors and volunteers and – for overnight camps – testing campers and staff when they first arrive and again for those who are there for long stays.
The state mandates orientation on COVID safety practices, providing an isolation area for anyone with COVID symptoms, and developing a disinfection and cleaning plan.
Dr. Hooshmand said she understands concerns that unvaccinated children could possibly spread the novel coronavirus to grandparents or other potentially vulnerable family members. However, she said local case rates are down.
“We have a rigorous testing clinic at Cape Cod Pediatrics for exposed and sick children. Our numbers show that rates of COVID-19 are down; we have seen no positive cases in our testing sample since April,” she said.
Parents of children with serious health issues should ask their specialists about the safety of attending camp, Dr. Hooshmand said. Otherwise, most children would benefit from the experience.
“Camps are great. Most activities are outdoors,” where chance of transmission in low, she said.
What Camp Officials Say
Of the approximately 1,400 licensed children’s camps in Massachusetts, only about 20 percent opened last summer, said Michele Rowcliffe, executive director of American Camp Association, New England. Massachusetts didn’t permit overnight camps to operate.
“Last summer, many camps were creative in offering on-line experiences for their campers, as well as ‘camp in a box,’ with mailed-out packages filled with activities, arts and crafts, etc.,” she said.
Camps have spent the past 15 months preparing for safe openings, she said.
“We are using learnings from successful camp openings in Maine (where overnight camps were allowed to open last year), as well as CDC guidelines, to create a safe, positive environment for all. We know so much more than we did last year,” Rowcliffe said.
Director Dan Michel of Brewster Day Camp said he was glad to return to activity after going through last summer, when camp leaders made the decision to stay closed rather than try to operate under changing state restrictions.
“Families have been so excited to send kids to camp in a great setting and feel safe in doing so,” he said.
Michel said that although most activities are outside, the camp bought some tents to accommodate a three-foot social distancing rule when campers are inside. To limit viral transmission, campers and staff are divided into groups, or cohorts, of about 25, in accordance with federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
The pandemic gave the camp an opportunity to grow and learn, Michel said.
“Don’t let a good crisis go to waste,” he said.
Sandy Rubenstein, owner and director of Camp Wingate*Kirkland in Yarmouthport, said state officials last year postponed opening of overnight camps till this summer. She said she was able to keep her kitchen staff last summer by participating in the Cape Cod Family Table Collaborative, a local nonprofit that provides meals to laid-off hospitality workers and their families during the pandemic. The camp also opened its doors last fall to allow 25 students to do their online learning in a safe and supervised space and posted virtual activities on the web for families to use at home.
This summer, Rubenstein insists all staff be vaccinated. Masks will be the rule for everyone when inside or when it’s impossible to socially distance. All staffers undergo two weeks of training, including first aid. Rubenstein said she’s had to hire additional staff to meet COVID safety requirements, such as having someone serve salad as opposed to having campers help themselves.
“We’re doing everything we can to give them the best experience and keep them safe,” Rubenstein said.
YMCA of Cape Cod has already reached full registration this summer for all five of its day camps in Falmouth, Sandwich, Barnstable and Harwich.
“We are looking at our biggest year,” said Andrew Coleman, marketing and communications director. “We’re following guidelines and staying outdoors when possible.”
The YMCA of Cape Cod was able to operate day programs last summer, he said, but numbers were down because there was no bus service that normally transports many campers.
“Camp professionals are confident this summer will be a success,” Rowcliffe said. “Children and families are craving for this experience. The impact (camping) has on development is enormous.”