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How to reopen summer camps safely this year

Experts say there is enough research and data out there from the CDC that shows summer camps can take place, if proper protocols exist.

HIRAM, Ohio — With the world getting back to normal following the pandemic, many parents and kids are excited about the chance to return to summer camp this year. It's a welcome sign in the recovery process with kids getting outside, making new friends, and moving their bodies – after a year in front of so many screens. But as we continue living in this pandemic, there are still fears that come along with gatherings.

Dr. William Mudd, a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children's, says there is enough research and data out there from the CDC that shows summer camps can take place, if proper protocols are in place.

RELATED: CDC issues new guidelines for summer camps

"Overall, we feel that children benefit from camps much more than current risks for contracting COVID-19,” says Dr. Mudd. “The overall benefits outweigh those risks.”

Dr. Mudd adds as far as summer camps having a COVID-19 testing regime in place, it depends on the camp and their ability to carry one out.

“Many camps do screenings and make sure kids are healthy before attending, this was even before COVID, but many camps are planning on doing even more screening,” Dr. Mudd says. “Most program directors and camp counselors – if not all – want to keep kids safe. They want to do the right thing, so parents – it’s just the same as a healthcare team.”

Camp Asbury, located in Hiram in Portage County, had to discontinue its summer camp programs last year. They were part of the estimated 82% of camps nationwide put on pause, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. But this year, Camp Director Bill Graham and Assistant Camp Director Sammi Vaughan say, they are ready to reopen – safely.

“You know, extra sanitation of surfaces this summer, and then kind of isolating those small groups a little but more than we would have in the past,” says Vaughan. “It’s not 100 percent risk free and we know that, so were telling families, this is a year where you really have to consider ‘is camp the best decision for your family if your camper or family member is at high risk?’ We’re asking them to take extra precautions when decided whether camp is the right decision this year.”

Camp Asbury is one of the many summer camps accredited by the American Camp Association, who works with a third party that interprets what the CDC says, to help develop their planning. That's why this summer, instead of 100 campers on site at a given time, they're only allowing 48 campers this year, in cohorts of 6 groups with 8 people.

“We don’t say we have all the answers, because the information is constantly changing,” says Graham. “But we feel pretty comfortable and confident we can deliver a safe and fun summer this year – we’ve had plenty of time to figure it out!”

There are also many health benefits, both physically and mentally, that come with kids attending summer camps.

“It has certainly had an effect on children’s mental health – the isolation – so we’re happy to start seeing kids get back out there,” Dr. Mudd says. “Which is why overall as a whole, the AP and CDC feel comfortable recommending that children get back into camps when all those risks can be mitigated as much as possible, because we know the overall benefits are outweighing the risks.”

For Graham and Vaughan, bringing back their campers this year means so much after a very difficult year.

“Camp is all about relationships and what we’re really excited about is the chance to safely do interpersonal connections again,” Graham says. “When families brought their campers, it was like a public event at check in and check out, and we’re going to need to check campers in staggered time slots by their groups.”

If you’re a parent considering sending your child or children to a summer camp, Dr. Mudd says keep these questions in mind, before registering.

“What’s their masking policy? Certainly, that is going to be important in the events that we can’t have complete removal of risk – that is one proven way that we can at least reduce the risk of transmission,” Dr. Mudd says. “The other questions for parents may be, if it’s a day camp, are masks recommended on the bus between pick up and the camp itself? Is physical distancing going to be required, and if so, how are they planning on doing it?”

Camp Asbury is asking campers to monitor their health 14 days before arriving to camp – but are not requiring a COVID-19 testing regimen. The camp also advises those who register to not travel before coming to the site, and not engage in large gatherings. Their first day of camp is June 20th, ending on July 30th. Campers come for one-week sessions and registration is now open. For more information, head to their website, https://campasbury.org/

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Editor's Note: The below video is from an unrelated story