Guidance for Youth Camps During the Summer 2021 Season

Day and overnight camps in New York State can begin to plan for summer 2021. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s office made the Feb. 17 announcement, noting that the Department of Health “will issue specific reopening guidance, including details on timing, in the coming weeks.”

"In New York, we base our decisions on the science and data and adjust as the virus adjusts,"  Governor Cuomo said. "With continued decreases in the infection and hospitalization rates, we have been able to take steps toward beginning our post-COVID recovery and we are excited to now be in a place where we can bring back our recreational industries with safety protocols in place.”

The announcement dovetails with a Feb. 3 study  that evaluates a near-zero symptomatic COVID-19 transmission at a network of North Carolina day camps last year, which promoted wearing masks and maintaining physical distance. The details of the camp’s 2020 sessions were published in Pediatrics, in a collaboration with Duke Health, Weill Cornell Medicine (WCM) and NewYork Presbyterian.

Taking the proper safety precautions at camp

"This is part of the growing body of evidence demonstrating that if precautions like masking, distancing and hand washing are taken, coronavirus transmission can be avoidable in congregate settings for children during times of high community incidence,” said  Dr. Sallie Permar, chair of the  Department of Pediatrics  at Weill Cornell Medicine, pediatrician-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian Komansky Children’s Hospital and a co-senior author of the study.

Dr. Permar, who conducted the study at Duke before joining Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian in December 2020, worked with a group of pediatricians to advise the camp network on programming and mitigation strategies.

“These results suggest that the benefit of in-person programming for supporting youth learning and mental health, particularly in vulnerable populations, outweighs the risk of viral spread,” added Dr. Permar, the Nancy C. Paduano Professor of Pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine. “This is true not only in a school setting, but in a camp setting where children are engaging in activities like playing outside and at the gym and doing crafts.”

Keeping kids safe at camp

The camps implemented daily temperature checks, physical distancing of at least six feet, masks at indoor activities and outdoors where participants couldn’t remain distanced, frequent hand washing and sanitizing, and site cleaning. They also split campers into cohorts of 10 youth and one staff member and trained staff in COVID-19 protocols. An internal audit in June found more than 95 percent compliance with the mask mandate.

To identify potential COVID-19 cases, the camps asked about exposures outside of camp before allowing campers on site. The camps conducted contact tracing if they learned of an infection. Ten youth and nine staff—or 0.6 percent of 3,030 people at camp sites where the exposures occurred—had infections that were linked to transmission outside the camps. The other two cases, or .07 percent, were potentially connected to exposure at the camps.

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