CDC Issues New COVID-19 Guidelines for Summer Camps

Camp policies must promote physical distancing indoors and outdoors in line with the current recommendations for K-12 schools

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Children attending summer camp can get within 3 feet of each other, but should wear masks to limit the spread of COVID-19, according to new guidance issued Saturday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Masks should not be worn when swimming, napping, eating or drinking, however, it is recommended that campers stay at least 6 feet apart for these activities. Camp counselors and other adults should stay at least 6 feet from children and each other, the CDC says.

The updated guidelines, which are based on previous social distancing recommendations given to K-12 schools, have been eagerly awaited by parents as the end of the school year approaches.

The CDC says the guidance is meant to supplement, not replace, state and local regulations already in place. The agency acknowledges the important role summer camp plays for a child's "social, emotional and physical" development.

"Camps provide opportunities for children to try new activities, develop relationship and social skills, and be physically active," the CDC notes on its website. "In addition to allowing for free play and unstructured learning, many camps also incorporate educational content, which can help prevent summer learning loss."

For young children struggling to adapt to the stress of a year-long pandemic, experts say try using toys to process feelings, build emotional health and foster communication.

The agency suggests creating cohorts, or groups of campers and staff that stay together throughout the day, and limiting exposure between them.

In order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 at camps, the CDC recommends disinfecting common areas, limiting the sharing of toys, books or games, and providing each camper with a labeled cubby for their belongings. Nap mats should be assigned to individual children, and sanitized before and after each use.

The CDC emphasizes holding as many activities as possible outdoors. If activities need to be held indoors, "bring in as much fresh air into camp buildings as possible" by opening windows and doors and using fans. Day trips to lakes, beaches and hiking trails are permitted as long as there is no mixing or interactions with the general public outside the camp population, the CDC says.

Campers and staffers should be monitored and screened daily for COVID-19 symptoms, and camp operators should “establish partnerships with community providers who offer testing, or refer staff and campers for screening testing.” 

Camp staffers who are 16 or older are "strongly encouraged" to get vaccinated as soon as possible to reduce the risk of getting seriously ill and to lower the risk of spreading the virus to others. The CDC notes that vaccines are not yet authorized for children under the age of 16, so preventative measures such as mask-wearing and physical distancing must continue, even after camp employees are vaccinated.

Health officials also issued guidance for overnight camps, recommending that eligible staff, volunteers, campers and family members be fully vaccinated two weeks before traveling to camps. Unvaccinated campers and staffers should self-quarantine for two weeks and provide proof of a negative viral test taken no more than 1–3 days before arriving at the camps.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says high school students may be able to start getting vaccinated in the beginning of the fall while younger children studies are underway.
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