If there’s one thing every kid deserves this summer, it’s a break from the claustrophobia of quarantining with parents—and for many parents, the feeling is mutual. (In that we just really want our children to have meaningful peer interactions again, of course.) So, let’s cut to the chase: Is sleepaway camp out of the question this year because of COVID-19? (Spoiler: It’s not.) We spoke to a pediatrician to get the full scoop on what you need to know when it comes to sending your kid off to camp this year.
Is sleepaway camp an option this summer?
The isolation of the last year has taken a toll on everyone—particularly kids, who not only have an emotional but also a developmental need for regular peer interaction. Summer camps have long been favored for their ability to provide enrichment and stimulation alongside meaningful social engagement—and the need for just such an experience is more acute than ever. We won’t go so far as to say it’s what the doctor ordered, but we do have some good news in that vein: Dr. Christina Johns, senior medical advisor for PM Pediatrics, says that sleepaway camps can, in fact, be an option for parents to consider this summer. The caveats? Do your research and make sure that certain safety protocols are in place before you take the plunge and sign your kid up.
What should parents look for when choosing a camp?
With COVID-19 still going strong and no vaccines currently available for the under 16 set, safety is paramount. The first step? Make sure the sleepaway camp you’re considering is abiding by the COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines that are in place in your state. Don’t hesitate to call up the camp and ask some pointed questions—regardless of who you speak to, if any point of contact isn’t clear on mandated public health policy then it’s a red flag.
Once you know that the camp you’re looking into is following state and local mandates (basic), you might be wondering what other boxes should be checked. Alas, Dr. Johns tells us it’s not as simple as that, as there are “no hard and fast rules.” There are, however, some important protocols that she recommends parents consider when assessing the relative risk of sending a child to any sleepaway camp.
Per Dr. Johns, one of the things to investigate is testing protocol. The question parents should ask is, “are all campers going to be required to have a test three days or so before they go to camp, and submit a negative test result [before attending]?”
2. Social contract
Unfortunately, having a kid tested three days before camp starts doesn’t mean all that much if said kid spends the long pre-camp weekend partying with her friends, their friends and her cousin twice removed. As such, camps that prioritize safety typically ask parents to do the same—namely in the form of a social contract, says Dr. Johns. The takeaway? It’s a good sign if families are asked to commit to certain social distancing rules—avoiding unnecessary gatherings and passing on playdates, for example—for at least 10 days prior to the first day of camp, as this “decreases the risk of exposure.”
Dr. Johns notes that the safest camps are ones that attempt to “create an initial, controlled environment.” In other words, a pod. In the sleepaway setting, this might mean that camp goers are assigned to small groups, and the different groups (or cabins, as it were) are limited in their interactions with one another for at least the first 10 to 14 days.
4. Limited outside exposure
In effect, the safest sleepaway camp is one that becomes its own form of quarantine: Once the testing is done, the pods are in place and some time has passed without incident, sleepaway camp is as safe an environment as any...until outside exposure creeps in. For this reason, Dr. Johns recommends that parents be wary of sleepaway camps that have trips to public attractions on the itinerary. Similarly, Dr. Johns says that many conscientious sleepaway camps are nixing ‘visitor days’—and although that might be a tough adjustment for a homesick kid, it’s really for the best.