Summer camps return, as normal as possible

Children at Captial Camps, pre-COVID. (Photo courtesy of Havi Goldscher)

In the week before many overnight camps open for the summer, COVID-19, though in retreat, is still a cause for caution. Kids under 12 can’t get vaccinated, and so testing, mask wearing and other precautions will be part of the summer experience.

“In some ways, this will be more normal than many of the experiences that they’ve had throughout the last year, because they’ll be in a social group with peers outside, active, off screen,” said Lisa David, director of the Reform movement’s Camp Harlam in Kunkletown, Pa. “So it’s a return to normal, even with those safety measures in place.”

Four regional camps, interviewed by WJW, say they are ready for full summer of fun, especially after more than a year of distance learning and distance socializing. Here’s how they plan to do it:

Capital Camps, in Waynesboro, Pa., will accommodate slightly fewer campers this year than it did in pre-pandemic 2019. This summer, the camp will host 765 kids, a mild dip from the typical 800 campers, according to interim CEO Havi Goldscher. Each cabin will accommodate between two and four fewer campers to allow some social distancing.

Habonim Dror Camp Moshava, in Street, Md., capped the number of campers this year at 150, down from the typical 250. Abby Cohen, recruitment and outreach coordinator for the camp, said they had to institute a waiting list due to increased demand.

“People are really eager to send their kids to camp and give them a nice experience,” Cohen said.

Campers and their families won’t be able to walk right into camp. Kids have to quarantine at home first. Cohen said Camp Moshava delayed its start date a week to June 27 to give campers 14 days to self-isolate once the school year ended.

And there will be tests. A lot of them.

Capital Camps requires unvaccinated campers to be tested for COVID 10 days before they arrive at camp and again 72 hours before. Vaccinated campers and counselors only need to be tested 72 hours prior. Tests will be administered on arrival and again five days later, Goldscher said.

At Camp Moshava, daily health screenings will be a new tradition. Cohen said anyone showing symptoms of COVID will be quarantined on camp property. If they test positive, they’ll be sent home. Staff will also conduct contact tracing to root out any other cases.

Camp Ramah in New England in Palmer, Mass., aims to create a bubble where campers and staff don’t interact with the outside world throughout the summer. That means parents are not allowed to visit, staff are not allowed to leave camp property during their off hours and, unlike in pre-COVID times, there will be no field trips.

The no visiting rule rubbed some parents the wrong way, said Michelle Sugarman, the camp’s assistant director. In response, the camp is turning to an old friend, Zoom, and offering virtual visiting days.

Camp Moshava will begin the summer at a nearby park, where parents will drive for their kids to do rapid COVID tests and get checked for lice. Once the kids are cleared, parents will drive them to camp.

When it comes to face masks, camps vary in policy.

At Camp Ramah, kids won’t have to wear a mask outdoors, but unvaccinated campers will have to be masked inside. All kids will have to wear a mask when entering the dining hall, but vaccinated kids will be able to take their masks off after they are seated with other vaccinated campers.

Camp Moshava divided campers into cohorts by age group. Campers don’t have to wearing masks when interacting with their own cohort, but do if they’re interacting with other cohorts.

As for vaccinations, camps aren’t requiring kids to be vaccinated, but staff are either being required to be fully vaccinated or show their vaccination cards.

Sugarman said parents expressed both concern and optimism about camp this year.

“Parents were all over the place this year. Some were very nervous about COVID and asked lots of questions about our policies and procedures,” Sugarman said. “Other parents are just so excited to get their kid out of the house.”

Capital Camps hosted virtual town halls with parents and campers during the past year to keep them updated on the camp’s status.

“We have had more conversations with parents in the lead-up to summer 2021 than I can remember in recent history,” Goldscher said. At one meeting, more than 300 people attended the Zoom talk.

Camp activities will largely be the same this year, but with more of an emphasis on outdoor activities. David said Camp Harlam is trying to do as much outside as possible. To help, the camp purchased two large tents to provide shelter for outdoor play.

Camp Ramah will have themed days once a week to make up for the lack of field trips. For example, there will be a sports tournament day put on by older campers for the younger kids and a day of Israel-themed activities.

The new adventure course Camp Harlam has rope bridges, a rolling log, hanging ties and monkey bars. (Photo courtesy of Lisa David)

Several camps used the off season to enhance their facilities. Capital Camps installed a brick pizza oven. Camp Harlam built a fire pit and an adventure course with rope bridges, a rolling log, hanging ties and monkey bars. David said they also renovated the swimming pools and the boy’s cabin, which is now ADA accessible with its wheelchair ramp.

“These kids deserve to have a fun summer,” Cohen said.

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