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These 5 New York Camps Saw Zero COVID-19 Transmission Last Summer

These 5 New York Camps Saw Zero COVID-19 Transmission Last Summer

We spoke to five camps that operated successfully and safely last summer—with no COVID-19. Here's how they did it.

Families throughout New York have been through the ringer—and every kid is in need of a little fun. Fortunately, summer is around the corner, and Cuomo officially announced that New York day camps can open for summer 2021.  We talked to five New York camps about what precautions they took to open last summer—and how they play to open safely in 2021. (Spoiler alert: All of these camps saw zero transmission of COVID-19.)

Preparing for Summer Camp During COVID-19

The most important first step for camps was to buff up on all essential COVID-19 information. Most followed safety measures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state and local health departments, and the American Camp Association.

“We took a very proactive approach, meeting weekly with our CEO, aquatics, registered nurse, specialists, and directors virtually, sharing any information someone may have received in their respective fields,” explains John Dillon, Rockland County YMCA youth program director. “Lisa [Coughlin, Rockland County YMCA program director] and I would attend virtual camp discussions with YMCA camps across the United States to see what they were doing, what was working, and what wasn’t working. All of this collaboration made it easier to prepare for the unexpected.”

Every staff member at Camps ‘R’ Us, which operates several camps in Long Island, received extensive training about COVID. All group leaders, program staff, and directors were thoroughly educated on health procedures and received contact-tracer training through Johns Hopkins University. The camp also had health professionals on-call and available for guidance and consultation. Campuses were fully equipped with personal protective equipment and their infirmaries were revamped to add isolated areas.

2020 and 2021 Camp Health Screening Processes

Many camps set up procedures to track temperatures and monitor symptoms for 14 days before camp started. Park Shore Country Day Camp in Dix Hills, Ann & Andy’s Acres of Adventure in Elmsford, and the YMCA of Rockland, for example, required a health-screen form to be filled out by every camper and every member of the staff.

At Camps ‘R’ Us, comprehensive daily health checks were already part of the norm—even prior to COVID-19—but they added elements like monitoring signs and symptoms of COVID-19 for 14 days prior to camp, daily temperature checks, and staff COVID-19 tests every 2 weeks. Camps ‘R’ Us also distributed important information to parents over email and ZOOM webinars.

Handwashing protocols were consistently followed, and staff were trained to model best hygiene practices for campers. Entrances and exits were limited to essential business and camp vendors (who were screened upon entry), and no visitors were allowed. Staff members could not leave campus during lunch or breaks, and those who traveled between campuses were health-screened at each campus.

How Kids Get to Camp During COVID-19

Bus transportation was rare last summer, but some camps—like Magic Day Camp in Queens Village—offered rides if masks were worn. Ann & Andy’s Acres of Adventure limited bus capacity, and campers had to enter at the back and exit at the front of the bus.

At camps where transportation was not offered—like Park Shore, for example—parents stayed in their cars during drop-off and pickup. At pickup, each parent was given a placard with their child’s name on it that was color-coded by their pod. The camper’s name was then called out on the PA system upon parent arrival and a group leader would walk the camper to their car.

Despite the extra hassle, parents were happy their kids had the opportunity to go to camp. “All of the parents that opted to send their children [to camp last summer] were overjoyed and so appreciative,” says Bob Buda, director of Park Shore Country Day Camp. “It was so heartwarming to see, and there was such a camaraderie at pickup and drop-off.”

Camp Meals During COVID-19

The precautions taken for camp meals included handwashing before eating, social distancing between pod tables, and single-serve bottles of water and juice. Water fountains were disabled at Park Shore, so each camper brought their own reusable water bottle to refill at designated water coolers. At Camps ‘R’ Us, campers ate lunch in their designated “hubs” or homerooms.

new york camps open

Camp Pods and Groups

Most camps kept children in their respective pods throughout the day. For example, at Park Shore, the pods (of 15 kids or fewer) never came into contact with any other group. If pods had to cross paths, counselors would play what Budah calls “Gaiters Up!” and all campers would pull their neck gaiters—which had been distributed to all campers—over their mouth and nose. At Ann & Andy’s Acres of Adventure, entrances, exits and bathrooms were designated for specific pods so there was no crossover between groups.

At Park Shore, every facility was sanitized after a pod used it, and every pod had its own equipment. For example, if six groups were going to be at the ball field that day, there were six bags of baseball equipment. Activity scheduling was staggered to allow for cleaning in between, and to limit unnecessary interactions between smaller groups.

Despite all this separation, however, campers grew closer. “Because the counselors and campers had to stay with the same cohort throughout the entire summer, they became really close with one another,” according to Dillon. “It was them and the group and they did a fantastic job.”

New York Camps Sanitation and Hygiene Processes

Another routine precaution was proper hand hygiene and equipment sanitation. Park Shore purchased 60 gallons of hand sanitizer for the summer and set up hand-sanitizing stations throughout the camp. Many camps also hired extra sanitation staff to keep high-traffic areas clean.

Because indoor activities were limited, Magic Day Camp staff made an extra effort to keep campers hydrated and provided handheld fans for cooling off. They also emphasized the importance of mask-wearing to campers who may have seemed confused or frustrated. Darielle Loprete, assistant director and public relations of Magic Day Camp, says they did whatever they could to make sure every camper was comfortable and having fun.

RELATED: Cool and Unique Face Masks for Kids

Camp Schedules and Activities During COVID-19

In fact, most camps did everything they could to make summer “normal” for campers, despite the circumstances. At Magic Day Camp, campers got to play sports and carnival games, dance, visit parks, and even roller skate when a roller rink came to set up shop at their facility. Campers were also able to swim every day.

RELATED: What You Need to Know About Swimming in Pools During Coronavirus

Whenever possible, all activities took place outside, even arts and crafts. At camps where indoor activities were allowed, like Camps ‘R’ Us, gymnasiums were separated into quadrants and campers were given cohort-specific equipment.

Typical schedules were reduced, and field trips were canceled, but camp staff still made the summer special for kids by modifying certain events so they could happen. For example, at Park Shore, Color War was held within individual pods rather than camp-wide. At Ann & Andy’s Acres of Adventure, additional lifeguards were hired so more pool areas could be open. Playgrounds were divided and designated by color coding. The camp’s “extra” activities, like family night and the variety show, were virtual.

Camps that had separate programs held them all on one campus, and some built precautionary rain days into the camp schedule, the same way schools do with snow days.

“As a business, we opened because we wanted to serve the children of NYC,” Loprete told WPIX11 News. “When you're operating at less than half capacity, it can be financially devastating, but the reward was seeing the smiling faces of the children that got to walk through our camp doors each day.”

Main image courtesy Park Shore Day Camp


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Melissa Wickes

Author: Melissa Wickes is a graduate of Binghamton University and the NYU Summer Publishing Institute. She's written hundreds of articles to help New York parents make better decisions for their families. When she's not writing, you can find her eating pasta, playing guitar, or watching reality TV. See More

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