Considerations for Conducting In-Person Camps
As COVID-19 vaccines become more available and new infection rates decline, K-12 schools, colleges, and universities will consider reopening camps in-person. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released updated guidance in May 2021 for operating youth and summer day and overnight camps during COVID-19.
The updated CDC guidance includes separate sets of recommendations for camps where everyone is fully vaccinated and camps where not everyone is fully vaccinated.
If you’re holding an in-person camp this summer, follow these CDC recommendations to increase safety and reduce liability. If you are operating an overnight camp, also see the Additional Guidance for Overnight Camps, section 4B in the CDC guidance.
State and Local Requirements
Follow your state and local health and safety laws and regulations. The CDC guidance supplements, but doesn’t replace, local regulations with which camps must comply. To learn more about local requirements, see the American Camp Association’s (ACA’s) State Operating Guidance for Summer 2021 and consult with your institution’s legal counsel. Check frequently for updates to the guidance as local COVID-19 circumstances change.
Emergency Operations Plan
Create an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) documenting operations in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For example, New Jersey and Michigan published camp operating plans highlighting important issues. Topics to cover include:
- Strongly encouraging vaccination for all eligible people
- Policy differences, if any, for people who are fully vaccinated versus those who are not
- Health screenings for infectious illnesses, including COVID-19
- Testing for COVID-19
- Using COVID-19 prevention strategies to protect people who are not fully vaccinated, including physical distancing, mask wearing, and hand hygiene
- Reviewing safety protocols for high-risk staff and campers
- Cleaning facilities and equipment
- Providing PPE for health care staff
- Enabling staff to stay home when they are sick, exposed to COVID-19, or caring for someone who is sick
- Allowing families flexibility if campers have symptoms or test positive before arriving at camp
- Limiting nonessential visitors, volunteers, and activities involving external groups
- Designating a COVID-19 Point of Contact (camp nurse or other health care provider) to be responsible for responding to COVID-19 concerns
- Managing suspect or confirmed cases
- Planning for an outbreak
Cohorts and Pods
For camps where not everyone is fully vaccinated, create cohorts, also referred to as pods, which are groups of campers and staff that stay together throughout the day to minimize exposure to other people while at camp. While masks remain necessary, physical distancing can be reduced to 3 feet within the cohort. Avoid mixing cohorts, especially indoors.
Training and Signage
Train staff and campers on the EOP and COVID-19 prevention strategies. Prevention strategies include:
- Stay home if you’re sick or having COVID-19 symptoms.
- For camps where not everyone is fully vaccinated, use well-fitted masks that cover the nose and mouth.
- For camps where not everyone is fully vaccinated, physically distance at least 6 feet between people not within the same cohort.
- Sanitize hands regularly using soap and water or hand sanitizer.
- Cover coughs and sneezes.
Post signs around the camp highlighting and encouraging prevention strategies. For camps where not everyone is fully vaccinated, provide physical guides, such as tape on floors or sidewalks and signs on walls, to ensure people remain at least 6 feet apart in lines and at other times. Remind campers and staff to remain in their cohorts throughout the day.
Encourage campers and staff to get vaccinated when eligible. The CDC recommends that everyone 12 years and older get fully vaccinated against COVID-19; the CDC provides vaccination toolkits to educate camp families and communities. Consider whether to require vaccines for those who are eligible.
For camps where everyone is fully vaccinated, the CDC advises that staff and campers don't need to wear masks or physically distance except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. Even if everyone is fully vaccinated, continue to be supportive of staff or campers who choose to continue to wear a mask.
For camps where not everyone is fully vaccinated, the CDC advises that camps may choose whether to require any staff and campers who are fully vaccinated to wear masks or physically distance except where required by law or regulation. Mask use indoors is strongly encouraged for people who aren’t fully vaccinated, but unvaccinated and vaccinated people generally don’t need to wear masks outdoors. If your camp is in a location with a substantial to high transmission of COVID-19, the CDC recommends that people who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact with other people who aren’t fully vaccinated.
At all camps, fully vaccinated campers and staff who have symptoms consistent with COVID-19 should go through the same steps as non-vaccinated campers and staff with symptoms — isolate themselves and get tested. However, according to the CDC, if a fully vaccinated person is exposed but doesn’t experience COVID symptoms, that person doesn’t need to isolate or get tested.
Locations and Ventilation
When possible, hold activities outdoors for maximum ventilation. Increase ventilation for indoor activities by opening doors and windows when possible and reviewing HVAC settings to ensure they are maximizing ventilation. For additional recommendations, see the CDC’s ventilation guidance for schools and child care programs.
For communal spaces, limit use to a single cohort at a time. Clean spaces between cohort use.
Campers who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance while participating in sports, except where required by laws or regulations. Campers who aren’t fully vaccinated should avoid playing close-contact or indoor sports, both of which increase the risk of spreading COVID-19. If unvaccinated children play close-contact or indoor sports, reduce risk by wearing a mask, playing outside, and staying at least 6 feet away from others.
See the CDC’s additional guidance for youth sports administrators.
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About the Author
Melanie Bennett, Esq.
ARM-E, Senior Risk Management Counsel
In her role on UE’s Risk Research team, Melanie dives into timely topics affecting education. Her areas of expertise include pandemic response, protecting minors, enterprise risk management (ERM), and technology accessibility. Prior to joining UE, she interned at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.