What to Know About the Corona Virus & Summer Camps

The Covid-19 Corona Virus: Just the facts with my own insights on how it will affect Summer Camp

With the summer camp season finally on the horizon again, the emergence of the Corona Virus threatens to disrupt this magical time of year for all of us.

I’m sure there are many kids and parents out there starting to nervously ponder how their summer plans might be affected.  It is a reasonable concern with so much new information about the Corona Virus still coming to light.

I wanted to share my own insights into the concerns of many a camp director and how summer camps should be responding and preparing right now.

The Center for Disease Control

When situations of this nature arise, my first inclination is to turn towards the CDC for all of my information.  That is the Center for Disease Control; the leading US public health institute and the ones conducting the testing in the US.

I have heard many a far-flung tale and advice so far from ill-informed sources not tied into the medical world.

Here I will try to wade through the weeds to provide just the facts with my own insights into how it all might affect the upcoming summer camp season.  Off we go!

What is a Corona Virus?

First of all, Corona Viruses are actually quite common with all of us likely having experienced one at some point in our lives.

They are a large family of viruses that can cause mild illnesses such as the common cold.  The Corona Virus disease that is on everyone’s minds right now is a new form called COVID-19.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that a new, or novel, Corona Virus disease has reared its ugly head upon us.  Past forms of the virus have included Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Where did the COVID-19 Corona Virus Come From?

COVID-19 appears to have initially cropped up in Wuhan City in the Hubei Province of China from a form that originally affected animals.  It is strongly suspected that a bat might be the source, as was the case with MERS and SARS.

In a matter of weeks, the virus has spread to over 140 countries with a number of unfortunate deaths. Particularly amongst the elderly and those with severe underlying health conditions.

How is the COVID-19 Corona Virus Spread?

It is believed that the virus is mainly spread through the respiratory droplets of an infected person during sneezing or coughing.  This occurs when people are in close contact (within about 6 feet).  The droplets then land in the noses and mouths of people, or possibly inhaled into their lungs.

It is recommended to be careful in public places as touching these droplets once they have landed on an object, and then touching your face can possibly transfer the virus.  But this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

The vast majority of cases thus far in the US have resulted from contact with people who have recently traveled overseas.  Though many expect the number of cases to grow and community spread to eventually occur in some regions of the US.

Community spread is when a concentration of infections occurs in a specific area, including cases where the source of infection is not immediately clear.

At this point, the reported risk to the majority of us is low. The elderly and those with severe underlying health conditions are most vulnerable.  This is definitely not the time to ease your awareness as the situation is still developing and changing rapidly.

How could the COVID-19 Corona Virus Affect Summer Camps?

Every camp director in the country should have their ear firmly pressed to the grindstone; staying up-to-date, assessing, and preparing for every possible scenario.

Many of you might be thinking that the Summer Camp Season is still around 12 weeks away, leaving plenty of time for camps to prepare for their kids.

In reality, every Camp Director will be sweating as they prepare in earnest for hopefully a busy summer season.  Their to-do list will be daunting, ranging from compliance to maintenance to payroll. And on top of all that, this is also the time to focus efforts on gaining summer camp registrations, especially for any opportunities concerning the local school districts.

The level of disruption, with school closures amidst a still-developing situation will be unprecedented for most camp directors.

In an effort to maintain payroll for their workers, most camp directors will look to take full advantage of this time by implementing additional cleaning procedures for the camp.

The camp medical staff should be busy stocking extra supplies and rethinking their work areas to ensure isolation options for the campers.

Camp EAP / Emergency Action Plan

The camp directors themselves should be taking a good hard look at their Camp EAP to address possible situations concerning the Covid-19 virus.

The Camp EAP is their Emergency Action Plan and is required by insurance companies and state authorities.

The Camp EAP addresses every possible aspect of what-if (within reason), including appropriate response by every staffer or volunteer in any type of emergency.

Backpacking together at camp

Most camps will likely need to update their Camp EAPs at this point to address possible containment and quarantine of suspected infections possibly related to Covid-19.

Cancellation Decisions

It is more-than-likely that camp directors will make the unfortunate decisions to cancel their seasons if they suspect a level of vulnerability at their camps.

But it is still far too early for them to make those decisions, and divert the vast amount of resource being poured into preparing for the upcoming summer camp season by all camps.

Right now, it is a bit of a tricky tight rope walk for camp staff as the weeks draw closer to summer.

It is true that viruses generally do not like nor flourish in heated summer conditions, but I don’t think any summer camp director is moving forward confidently on that general assertion.

A hyper-vigilant sense of preparedness is required by all camps to weather this particular storm. What we have to remember is that summer camps come in all shapes and sizes.

There are larger summer camps supported by umbrella organizations or well-developed endowment funds that will fare better than most.

For smaller camps, the only safe option for their own self-preservation might be to lock the gates, send the staff home, and maintain a skeleton crew of 1 or 2 people to maintain the camp. These decisions will ultimately fall to the camp director or the board entity running the camp.

As I said before, it is still a bit early to be making those decisions on the upcoming summer season. I would think that these next 4 weeks will be crucial in informing that decision.

Especially considering that schools will be forced to rethink their semesters and exam schedules for the kids.

My Advice to Parents

My advice to parents would be to contact your camp directors and start a dialogue on how they are preparing for the upcoming season and ensure up-to-date communication on any decisions.

Be sure to inquire specifically into how they are cleaning the cabins and training their staff.

This could be considered a litmus test of sorts to determine how aware, concerned, and prepared each summer camp finds themselves in their view of Covid-19.

Any information expressed by camp staff should be informed, concise, and considerate.  Anything but should raise red flags for parents as it could be exposing a number of cracks in the camps ability to handle such situations.

Read the Fine Print on the Camp Registration Packet regarding Health Insurance

In every summer camp registration packet, there will be a section that requires parents to provide their kids health insurance information. This information will include policy numbers and contact details.

The section will also ask the parents, or legal guardians, to sign a contract stipulating the camps use and permissions in regards to the insurance policy in an emergency.

Be sure to read ALL of the fine print thoroughly. There will more-than-likely be a tidbit somewhere in that fine print language that addresses possible liability for the camp. It might include the options that parents have available to them to address any possible grievance with the camp in their emergency response.

It will also inform the parents which legal jurisdiction any possible grievance would be processed in. This will be regional, and might not be local to the camp. It will depend on the organization that ultimately owns and runs the kids camp.

***BLOG UPDATED BELOW – 3/22/20***

The Kids Camping Essentials team is based in Southern California, where much has changed over the past week. A week ago, life felt quite different from life now under mandatory lock-down.

Freeways typically more akin to slow-moving glaciers of traffic are now empty. The hustle and bustle of Hollywood has suddenly ground to an uncertain stop.

The Recent Publication of the Imperial College Covid-19 Response Team Report on March 16th, 2020

In the past week, a medical assessment was published by the Imperial College Covid-19 Response Team. It has been making its rounds among government officials everywhere and quite rightly spurring them to more aggressive actions to combat the Covid-19 spread.

This is a collaboration effort between the WHO (World Health Organization) Collorating Centre for Infectious Disease Modeling, MRC Centre for Glocal Infectious Disease, Abdul Latif Jameel Institute for Disease and Emergency Analytics Imperial College London.

You can read the report HERE.

Why the Imperial College Covid-19 Response Team Report is Important

It provided me with some much-needed clarity on why these lock-down procedures are so vitally important, and I hope it does the same for you.

The report outlines the potential short and long-term impacts of the Novel Corona Virus, depending on whether mitigation or suppression strategies are adopted by government authorities. It is a report based on empirical evidence seen in how the virus has so far affected China, South Korea, and Italy.

I admit that it is not the easiest of reads, but it does help to clarify the fear and where our immediate concerns should lay with ourselves and our communities.

The report’s goal is to inform the best approach to not only limit fatalities but to protect hospital systems from being completely overwhelmed.

I encourage everyone to read it with a hopeful heart filled with fortitude for the coming months.

What the Imperial College Report Means for Summer Camps

Please keep in mind that the mitigation and suppression strategies discussed in the report will be applicable to the efforts that Summer Camps should be undertaking right now.

Summer Camps should be focusing on their own suppression strategies for guaranteeing the cleanliness of their camp when the kids arrive.

The highest standards of compliance with state health authorities and the ACA (American Camp Association) should be at the top of every camp directors list.

From my own personal insight and experience serving in camp management roles, stepping up the cleanliness procedures is simply not enough.

The Summer Camp itself will surely be clean, but every camp director knows that campers can bring some unwanted pests with them to summer camp in their luggage.

Summer camps can mitigate the effects of any unwanted germs, and other encroaching visitors, through proper staff training in cabin group management.

Camp staff should be trained on the importance of cleanliness in the cabins and appropriate bathroom procedures for the campers. Strong camp counselors will have this dialed down to set and tested procedures that are timely and effective.

In my early years as a camp counselor and outdoor science school instructor, my procedures ran the same way week-in, week-out. They depended much on the cabins own accountability to each other as a team; helping to strengthen a bigger overall lesson.

Teamwork development and clear communication are essential in any task, much as it is in the situations we find ourselves today with the Corona Virus pandemic.

The Closure of School Districts and How this Could Affect Summer Camp Scheduling

Another big development over the past week is the announcement by school districts everywhere that semesters have been so substantially disrupted that the rest of the school year is suspended.

This will certainly affect our upcoming summer camp season. The kids are losing an entire swath of lessons and teachings necessary to move onto their next grade levels. The schools will need to address this gap of learning and adapt their testing schedules to ensure final grades.

The time available to them to fill in the learning and test gaps will be short. I suspect that school districts will inevitably have to force summer school participation for all students and teachers to bring their semesters back on track.

If this happens, then all summer camps will have to adapt their summer season schedules with the likelihood of all kids summer camp sessions occurring in the latter half of summer.

Scheduling a shortened summer season is tricky business for most camp directors who are juggling between leasing groups and kids summer camp sessions. There are unique advantages and disadvantages to both types of groups for the camps, especially how it all eventually hits their budgets.

Don’t be surprised if kids camp sessions are cut in favor of maintaining leasing groups. They can be far less demanding for the general operation of the camp.

Kids camps in places like California and Oregon with active fire seasons have already been forced to deal with substantial disruptions in recent years. As a result, they should be much better positioned to weather this Corona Virus storm.

My heart especially goes out to the current graduating class of high school seniors, who depend on the timeliness of their final grades to ensure college acceptances and scholarships.

That’s a Wrap!

We will stay on top of Covid-19 Corona Virus developments and will continually update this blog.

Ultimately it is up to everyone involved to keep a cool head and maintain an understanding of how each is dealing with the developing situation.

Everybody wants the magic of summer camp to return, as it always does, for another impactful summer for the kiddoes.  And everybody from kid to parent to camp staff will be incredibly disheartened if those cancellation decisions are forced to be made.

“Telling my past campers that I am not working at camp this summer was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”

– Former Camp Counselor

Let’s hope it doesn’t get to that point, and we all get to see each other again this summer.

Being a Kiwi, I will leave you with one of my favorite Tolkien quotes. In tough times, it helps to fortify my spirit and keep my eyes looking forward.

“Even darkness must pass. A new day will come and when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer.”

– Samwise Gamgee, Lord of the Rings

Keep your Heart strong and take care of yourselves!

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