March 1, 2021

With the end of school fast approaching, we recognize that parents want to know what to expect during this second summer of the COVID-19 “new normal” and summer camps. 

In January, the Nola Family team held a virtual forum for local camp directors to exchange ideas and discuss their 2021 summer camp plans. Guest panelists were Ochsner Health pediatrician, Dr. Diana Peterson, MPH; Melissa Conner, President of KidCam Camps; and Gay Bruner of the American Camp Association (ACA), a national community of camp professionals with the mission of ensuring quality camp programs. Attending our forum were camp directors across metro-New Orleans. 

Key focus of our forum was children’s health and the safety of summer camps, and how camps are planning their 2021 programs and safety protocols.  

And with the start of camp fast approaching, all attendees agreed that keeping parents informed and kids and staff safe were their prime directives. 

Diana Peterson, MDOchsner Health, Pediatrics 

“Since schools have reopened, we’re learned a lot about transmissions in school age children and adults. The level of transmissions closely mirrors that of community transmissions. Therefore, if infection rates are high in the community, then they will be high in schools. Some studies show that kids are protected in a school setting, as it’s a controlled environment.”  

Regarding the news of multiple COVID strains, “Viruses mutate, that’s no surprise there, it’s what they do,” and they “are more efficient at spreading.”

Vaccines 

On kids and vaccines, Dr. Peterson notes, “there are ongoing vaccine studies for kids, with ages 12-16 now in trials; but trials take a long time. Ages 8-12 would be the next group to be studied, with projected trials starting in March or April.”  What this means is that campers won’t be vaccinated before camps start this summer. 

Of special note, Dr. Peterson mentions that a group vaccine trial of 12-to-16-year-olds is planned at Ochsner Health, here in New Orleans.  

Gay BrunerAmerican Camp Association 

Just as teachers and other frontline workers have been proposed to quickly receive vaccinations, Ms. Bruner notes, “We’ve been working hard at federal and state levels to have camp employees considered essential workers. Whether we call it camp or childcare or after-school programs, it’s important our kids are in safe environments.” 

Melissa ConnerKidCam Camps 

Of the 2020 camp experience, “it was remarkable how smoothly last summer ran, and that’s attributable to (our) keeping it simple.” On planning for her multiple camp locations this year, “operationally, what worked last year, should work this year.”

Communication is Key 

Particularly, Conner noted that keeping the lines of communication open with a camper’s family was paramount to keeping an entire camp healthy. “What really worked was communication, with parents and campers. Having a director call the parents and find out where else they’ve (the kids) have been, and to have an understanding of what a family’s plans are and where you (the camp) fit into that equation.”

Partnering with Parents 

Parents need to remember that health starts at home. Gay Bruner emphasizes that “camps and families must collaborate and monitor health changes at a camper’s home, especially temperature changes,” and what’s happening with other family members. 

Importance of Standards 

The KidCam team found that setting safety standards was also key last year and that’s the path they’ll take this year. “Setting standards is what allowed us to control our environment and keep us safe and our operations running smoothly.” And then communicating those standards to their camper families and counselor staff. 

Cleanliness 

What the ACA is learning from their member camps, Bruner says, “we’re seeing that on a national level, after the Herculean cleaning schedules of 2020, camps reported that they’d had their healthiest summer ever. That was due to more hand washing and sanitizing and keeping everything clean (shared surfaces and items).”

Masking 

All participants agreed that masking is still essential to camper and staff safety, with Dr. Peterson commenting, “we will be masked until we have herd immunity, with 65-70% projected (being needed) for herd immunity.” Herd immunity is gained naturally through infection and vaccines. Current projections anticipate that such a herd immunity level will not happen until the fall, at the earliest. 

Similar to schools and other groups, total compliance is always the goal for camp settings, with adults around them masking as best examples 

Touching 

Handwashing is still extremely important, such as having a schedule for handwashing for the campers. But Dr. Peterson points out, “there’s more object sharing now, as we move forward and libraries, etc., open, with a lot less fear of kids touching things. And that will help (in the camp environment).”

General Safety 

Participating forum camp directors agreed that keeping their age groups together in pods was key in 2020, and would be what they’ll follow in 2021. For instance, social distancing will continue, keeping small groups of campers at their tables in order to avoid cross-contaminations and greater social distancing during quiet times, such as movies. Also requiring that food (snacks and lunches) and drinks be in individual portions will still be very important for overall safety.  

Singing? 

Recognizing that children love to sing and get close while doing so, Dr. Peterson says, “The guidelines unfortunately are the same; masks must be on and social distancing in place.” 

More than anything, we and our forum participants want to remind parents to stay in touch with your child’s camp. Ask camp administrators questions. Monitor your camp’s website for the latest information on what they’re doing. And remember that you and your child’s camp have the same goal: Keeping your child healthy, engaged, and happy during their summer school break.  


Photo of Nola Family editor Trevor WisdomTrevor Wisdom is Nola Family managing editor.

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