The American Academy of Pediatrics released updated guidelines about summer camps amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing that “safe camp participation” is possible — and can offer real benefits to children — if certain mitigation measures are followed.
“In light of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, children have missed out on the many of the social, emotional, intellectual, and developmental benefits of school attendance this past year in many communities,” state the guidelines, which were updated on Wednesday.
“Additionally, they have lost out on family gatherings, traditional celebrations, and community recreation,” the AAP says. “During the summer, it is important that children begin to reestablish connections with their friends, peers, and non-parental adults in an environment that supports their development while also consistently practicing the recommended principles to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2.”
Above all, camp directors must stick to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance for maintaining healthy environments, which emphasizes the importance of social distancing. For example: Having small groups of campers who stay together all day, every day; who remain at least six feet apart; who do not share objects, and who generally stick to outdoor activities is the least risky way to structure camp, the CDC says. Having groups of campers mixing and not maintaining any level of social distance poses the highest risk.
Although the CDC and AAP both now say that it is sufficient for students to sit 3 feet (as opposed to 6 feet) apart in classroom settings, the AAP’s new camp-specific guidelines do not offer hard-and-fast rules around ideal spacing.
But the AAP does emphasize that mask-wearing is essential, making a point to bold the following statement in its new guidelines: “It is important to note that the vast majority of children, even those with medical conditions, are able to safely and effectively wear face masks with adequate practice and support as well as modeling from adults.”
“During the summer, it is important that children begin to reestablish connections with their friends, peers, and non-parental adults in an environment that supports their development while also consistently practicing the recommended principles to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2.”
The new AAP guidance stops short of recommending that all campers should be tested for COVID-19 prior to attending — or that all camps have a process for testing campers and counselors while in session — though it does emphasize that testing can be one important part of a broader preventive strategy.
And it states unequivocally that all camps must have a clear plan for how to proceed if a camper or staffer becomes sick with COVID-19.
“This should include plans to remove a camper or staff member infected with SARS-CoV-2 from the camp, to separate and evaluate the health of close contacts, and if necessary, to close the camp if an outbreak is detected,” the guidance states.
Of course, ultimately choices about whether to send a child to camp rest with families and their pediatricians, who must weigh their specific circumstances as well as the rates of transmission in their area.
Children who are at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 should not attend camp, the group states, though again, that’s a conversation families should have with their children’s health care providers.
Ultimately, the AAP acknowledges that in a group setting like a camp, it can be difficult to adhere to the mitigation strategies that have been shown, time and again, to work: masking, hand-washing, social distancing and density reduction.
“However,” the group states, “the commitment of camp operators and the community to support safe camp openings is important to support child health and well-being.”
Last summer, more than 80% of overnight camps in the United States did not operate, and there were some highly publicized outbreaks among those that did — most notably at a Georgia camp where three-quarters of the campers tested were positive for COVID-19 by mid-July.
However, health officials emphasized that campers there were not required to wear masks and assembled in relatively large groups to do things like sing and cheer, both of which can spread COVID-19. According to survey data from the American Camp Association, of more than 480 camps that served 90,000 campers, only 30 campers had confirmed cases of COVID-19 last summer.