By this time last year, many parents had begun thinking about their kids’ summer plans. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, camps and summer programs had released their registration information for those looking to get an early-bird spot.
By the time March rolled around and the COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread closures, most camps either went to a virtual format, limited the number of campers or didn’t run at all.
“We refunded everyone and hunkered down,” says Dave Devey, camp director and owner of Falcon Camp in Carrollton. “We stayed in touch with our camp families, and hopefully this year all of us will be better prepared to deal with things by summer time.”
Camp directors are starting to organize and plan to see kids on their grounds.
Last summer, the American Camp Association (ACA), a national accrediting body for camp experiences, joined forces with the YMCA of USA to create a camp operations field guide for implementing Centers for Disease Control guidelines.
Courtney Guzy, executive director of Hiram House Camp, says her facility created its own COVID manual with information from the ACA field guide and the local health board.
“We made the decision to not run overnight camps (in 2020),” Guzy says. “We just ran the day camp program — social distancing, wearing masks and used every ounce of space we had.” Each camper was in small groups, which had their own separate bathroom and building. There was no co-mingling among other campers.
“We didn’t do group meals or cookouts,” she says. “We hired additional housekeeping, everything was cleaned all day long, such as high-touch points. We had tons of PPE and masks — there were a lot of modifications.”
Going Back in 2021
At Falcon Camp, Devey’s staff have been working on how to better serve their campers and are planning for camp’s return this summer.
“We have every intention of running as close to normal as possible with the realization of defining a new normal at least for the foreseeable future,” he says. “We are looking at all the guidelines out there both from the state of Ohio, our own medical experts, and guidance from ACA. We will follow the experts to create a safe environment (for campers).”
Guzy says Hiram House staff are reflecting on how they ran day camp last year and how to improve, but they also plan to add the overnight option.
“We anticipate running overnight camps, but just a little smaller,” she says.
Overnight camps are considering changes like adding distance between camp bunks and having small groups of campers and staff with limited or no interactions with other groups. How to safely host meals is also a concern they’re working on.
“It will be more paper and throw away products,” Devey says of the mealtime changes. “We usually try to avoid throw-aways from an environmental standpoint.”
However, camps understand the importance of kids going back, especially during a time where many might have spent hours in front of their screens.
“I truly believe the outdoors and fresh air led us to having a good summer last year,” Guzy says. “Kids need social interaction now more than ever — to unplug from technology. They have to reconnect with nature, be a kid and run around, and enjoy a sense of normalcy. These kids missed an entire year of their life of being with their friends and having positive interactions.”