Published on in Health Tip of the Week
Summer camp is an important experience for many children. This summer, it may be particularly important because children have experienced a profound disruption in their social, developmental and educational experiences. According to the CDC, camps where everyone is fully vaccinated may return to normal operations, without masking and without social distancing. Yet many parents — particularly those of children too young to be vaccinated — are left asking, “Is summer camp too risky?”
While fewer children have been sick with COVID-19 than adults, children can be infected with COVID-19 and spread the vaccine to others. The decision to have your child attend summer camp is not one-size-fits-all and should be made considering the health status of your child and other members of your household; the infection prevention practices in place at your child’s camp; and the current amount of COVID-19 disease in your community.
Below, Susan E. Coffin, MD, MPH, Clinical Director of CHOP’s Division of Infectious Diseases, and Lisa Biggs, MD, Associate Medical Officer of the CHOP Care Network, provide a framework for you to consider as you decide if attending summer camp is right for your child this summer.
Should I send my child to summer camp? Guiding principles to keep in mind
Adherence to physical distancing guidelines
The more people a camper interacts with, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread. Therefore, camps are likely to pose a lower risk of infection if they have:
- Small groups of campers that stay together throughout the day and over the course of the camper’s experience
- Emphasis on non-contact sports (tennis and running) and activities (drama and crafts)
- Physical distancing principles in use whenever possible
- Most activities (including meals) held outside
Commitment to infection prevention strategies
Because COVID-19 is primarily spread by respiratory droplets, contaminated hands or shared equipment, camps are likely to pose a lower risk if they:
- Expect campers to wear masks, especially if they are spending time in group activities and if the activities are held indoors or if children will be close together for more than 15 minutes. Consider offering face shields for “high exertion” activities or when a child is unable to tolerate wearing a face mask. Although fully vaccinated individuals do not need to wear a mask, camps should be supportive of campers and staff who choose to wear one.
- Encourage all children to clean their hands frequently; at a minimum, before and after meals, after using the toilet, when changing activities, and when visibly soiled.
- Minimize the use of shared equipment such as balls and rackets; frequently clean equipment that must be shared (at a minimum at the beginning and end of the day, and whenever a new group of campers begins to use the shared equipment).
- Train camp staff to follow CDC guidelines on cleaning and disinfection of the camp environment.
- Strongly encourage COVID-19 vaccination for all staff and campers 12 years and older.
Keeping a close eye on signs of illness
Coronavirus infections may cause fever and/or cough, sore throat, or shortness of breath. Therefore, camps are likely to pose a lower risk of infection if they have:
- Daily screening of staff and campers for respiratory symptoms
- Consistent policies that emphasize the importance of staff and campers to stay home if they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, have any respiratory symptoms or signs of other illness, or if they have a fever
Other general practices to consider when planning for summer camp include:
- Plan transport to and from camp to avoid crowded buses or cars.
- Provide a daily lunch for your camper to avoid shared food.
- Consider alternative summer plans if your child or a member of your household is at increased risk of serious outcomes due to COVID-19 due to age or an underlying health condition.
- Make sure your camp avoids large group gatherings, field trips and non-essential visitors to camp.
- Be prepared to keep your child home from camp if they develop any symptoms of illness.
Children with chronic conditions that are well controlled can usually participate in summer camp provided they are monitored closely for symptoms. Specific groups that should seek guidance from a specialty physician prior to enrolling in camp include children who are immunocompromised, those awaiting transplants, and those with chronic medical conditions who require daily medications and/or frequent doctor contacts.
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