day camps can open

Many New Jersey parents celebrated the announcement that starting July 6, day camps will be allowed to open in the Garden State. But camp directors are proceeding with caution–without guidelines from the state, they cannot go ahead with their summer programming.

“Camps have been eagerly waiting for the state guidance,” Robert Jordan, director of Rambling Pines day camp in Hopewell told New Jersey Family. “We have a wealth of mitigation and sanitation guidance from the CDC and the American Camp Association but it’s vital we hear the State DOH requirements.”

Susie Lupert, executive director of the American Camp Association, NY and NJ, agreed that without guidance from the state, plans to move forward have stalled.

“Day camps in New York and New Jersey recently got the go ahead to open by Governor Cuomo and Governor Murphy, however, camps are still awaiting guidance from both states and local Department of Health offices on what safety measures will have to be put in place in order to make all final decisions on whether to open,” she told New Jersey Family. “In the meantime, camps are making preparations based on guidelines released last month from the American Camp Association, who worked with a public health firm to create best practices amid COVID-19.  These changes will include small group sizes, staying in your small group or household, additional handwashing and hand sanitizing stations and additional cleaning and sanitizing of facilities throughout the day.”

For families who aren’t ready to send their kids to camp, either because their camp of choice is cancelled of because the risk of being exposed to the virus is too great, many camps are offering virtual options to keep kids engaged and occupied. It’s a safe way for kids to carry on some of their favorite camp traditions, maintain connections with other kids and engage in activities that will expand their horizons. While many parents will opt for keeping camp online this year, others are eager for answers about how camp could look if it were to open.

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Todd Rothman, co-director or Deerkill Day Camp in Suffern, New York told New Jersey Family that one of the most difficult things they’ve had to deal with is educating parents about when, if and how camp will run. He said that giving the opening date of July 6 without guidance on how to operate was akin to starting a race, but not telling anyone where to run.

“All guidance has to come through the state,” he said. “How many kids can be in a group? Can you pick up across state lines? Can you pick up past county lines? All of this determines whether camp is even feasible.”

Deerkill, which is right on the border of New York and New Jersey, welcomes many campers from northern Jersey each summer. So far, Rothman said a fair number of parents have withdrawn their children, but that the majority of camp families are hoping they get guidance soon and will be able to open.

“We have three children of our own desperate for social interaction,” he said. “Camp is a safe way for kids to socialize in an outdoor environment.” Not knowing whether or not schools will even open in the fall makes the opportunity for kids to come together outdoors for camp even more crucial, Rothman said.

“There’s a lot more to it than just the childcare aspect,” he said.

Rothman said he and his wife, Rebecca Rhodes Rothman, Deerkill’s co-director, are getting ready for campers. “We just had $1,000 worth of hand sanitizer delivered, we’re buying masks in bulk. We have portable hand washing stations and have purchased thermometers for testing our staff members.”

He said Deerkill will be eliminating indoor activities and shifting schedules to conduct camp outside. They will also be bringing in additional health staff.

“Camps will be the safest place for our children to be this summer,” he said. “The alternative is that kids just gather in streets to ride bike or have playdates and kids may not be exercising enough care. If kids stay with a grandparent, that puts elders at risk. Parents will have no alternative.”

Whatever the governor announces, Lupert said that parents should expect camp to look different this year. “Field trips will be cancelled, children will just be doing activities with their immediate group and lunch will likely take place outside,” she said. “But, camp spirit and traditions will still be present with fun camp days like crazy hair day and wear your tie-dye shirt day, camp songs and the chance for kids to be together in an outdoor setting after months of being at home.”