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This Is How Day Camps Are Keeping Kids Safe This Summer

This Is How Day Camps Are Keeping Kids Safe This Summer

Here’s what you need to know about how day camps can keep kids safe from COVID this summer.

With temperatures below zero and Omicron sweeping through the country, it may be hard to imagine sending your kids to day camp this summer. It might also be the most important summer to send your kids to day camp. Kids are currently suffering through the third year of the pandemic—and all the anxiety and disruption that accompanies it. They need to spend some time in a safe and carefree place. They need a summer of playfulness and joy. So how can you keep your kids safe from COVID in day camp? We spoke to Mike Halpern, the Director of Youth Services at Mosholu Day Camp (a branch of the nonprofit Mosholu Montefiore Community Center) in the Bronx.

Why is day camp for kids more important than ever?

The pandemic has been devastating for young people. Despite recently qualifying for vaccines and even boosters, kids have lost many freedoms, opportunities, and joys that they once cherished. “After the past few years of living in a global pandemic, children have a strong need for a place where they can socialize, try new things, make friends and have fun in a safe place,” Halpern says. “Camp is just that. Unlike school where there is a need to sit quietly and focus on academics, camp is a place where children can grow in a hands-on environment. At camp, everything that campers participate in becomes a learning experience, whether it is trying new things or learning a new and different way to do things.” 

How can camps keep kids safe?

Fortunately, day camps for kids have had two pandemic summers to learn how to keep kids safe from COVID. Using tactics like requiring masks (except while eating, sleeping, or swimming), enforcing social distancing, and avoiding indoor activities, many day camps have mostly minimized close contact and the spread of germs.

Mosholu Day Camp has kept kids safe and healthy by holding all activities outside. “Those programs that were traditionally indoors such as drama or dance were moved to the outside and have remained successful,” Halpern says. “The only time that the kids are indoors is when they are changing for swim.”

Even the cabins at Mosholu Day Camp are open air buildings, and no activity or piece of equipment at Mosholu is ever used two periods in a row so that they can be properly cleaned and sterilized in between sessions. “If a group is playing soccer, at the end of that activity period, the ball is placed in the dirty bin to be cleaned. The next group would then take a ball from the clean bin for their use,” Halpern says. During past summers, Mosholu Day Camp also installed faucets and sanitizer stations throughout the campgrounds, which not only provides an opportunity to wash but frequently reminds campers and staff that it’s a good idea to stay clean.

Many day camps for kids also now keep campers in consistent and small groups or pods. For example, Mosholu’s groups of 30 to 40 campers are now 8-12 campers. And this hasn’t necessarily been a negative, Halperin says. “Overall, we have definitely seen a stronger bond between campers and staff with smaller camper to counselor ratios. It has cut back on behavioral issues, and we have seen incredible growth in campers being open to trying new things.”

Busing—an important aspect of day camp for kids in New York—poses additional safety concerns, but many camps like Mosholu have reduced risk by assigning seats and grouping kids with family or pod members. Bus drivers also keep the windows open (even though the air conditioner is on) and clean the bus between uses.

What should parents look for in terms of a day camp’s safety protocols?

In general, day camps for kids should follow all the guidelines recommended by the CDC and the Department of Health, such as requiring campers and staff to be tested for COVID before arrival. The AAP and CDC also recommend that all eligible staff be fully vaccinated. But many camps like Mosholu Day Camp are taking safety protocol to the next level. For example, Mosholu will insist that all staff members are not only vaccinated but also boosted. And the camp has hired a mental health counselor to support campers and their families during this tenuous time.

This summer (and in the months preceding it), Halpern says that Mosholu Day Camp will keep a careful eye on the news and all updates from the CDC, Department of Health, and American Camping Association. “With the new variant, in the coming weeks, schools will be a good example as to whether or not home tests are effective,” he says. The camp, which serves kids from ages 5-15, will also cancel all day trips until further notice.

Although every day camp creates its own rules, Mosholu seems like a good model for safe behavior. “Mosholu was so on top of things that during the summer of 2020, when very few camps opened and even less were able to run a full summer, the Department of Health came to visit the camp and used Mosholu’s model of group spacing, cleaning and stagnant pods as a model in discussions with other camps,” Halpern says.

Finally, it may seem disheartening for day camps to enforce so many regulations, but Halpern assures parents that there is still a ton of fun to be had. And while camp may seem a long way off in this ever-changing world, and it may be hard to remember what a “normal” summer feels like, reclaiming the “normal” summer experience can be a reality for every family.

Learn more about Mosholu Day Camp below or by visiting their website here

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