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When considering summer camp, it’s so important to ask about the program and safety procedures before deciding which will become your child’s home away from home for the summer. Questions often range from inquiring about the session length, the swim program or, if it’s a sleepaway, how many children are in a bunk. But, amid a global pandemic, there are so many more questions to add to your list. The good news for parents is that both day and overnight camps ran successfully last summer and were able to mitigate the risk of COVID so children could have both a safe and rewarding summer.

Here are some questions you should ask the camp director when doing your research:

What changes are you making this year to keep campers safe?

There are many safety procedures that were put in place by camps last summer that will continue in the summer of 2021. But with the pandemic changing month to month, there are some variables that won’t be known until closer to the summer. Camps ran successfully in 2020 with safety procedures to mitigate the risk of COVID such as small group cohorts, daily health screenings, additional hand washing/sanitizing, increased sanitizing of facilities and camp programs running mostly outdoors. Although camp looked a little different, the fundamentals of what makes camp so special for children remained the same.

How can I get to know a camp before registering?

Even amid the pandemic, there are many ways to see the camp and get to know its director. Day camps offer socially distanced tours throughout the year. Many overnight camps will offer families the opportunity to visit camp this spring as the weather warms up.

What happens if staff or a child tests positive for COVID?

Based on last summer, if a camper or staff member tests positive for COVID, the camp will report it to the local health department. Day camps will notify the camp community and let you know if your child was exposed and needs to quarantine. Overnight camps used testing last year before campers and staff arrived at camp and then again a few days after they arrived. If a test came back positive once at camp, those exposed in the cohort would quarantine and testing would be done on that group. It’s important to note that there were very few positive cases of COVID at both day and overnight camps in the Northeast.

If COVID vaccines are available, will you require them? What about testing?

It’s too soon to tell when a vaccine will be available for children and young adults. Camps will work with their local and state health departments as vaccine information becomes available. Testing in 2021 is going to look different than it did in 2020. For overnight camp, parents can assume that some kind of testing will take place.

What is your camp’s refund policy?

This has become an important question that more and more people are asking of all camps since COVID hit. Before choosing a camp, it’s important to understand its refund policy and what date you have until to ask for your money back or if you can roll it over to the next year.

How do you handle separation anxiety for children who have been remote learners all year?

A good camp director will meet your child where they are and will be focused on the social-emotional well-being of every child at camp. In 2020, many children came to camp with anxiety from being home from school and not socializing with others for an extended period of time. The good news is that camp directors said it took just a few days of being at camp for children to adjust.

Will my child have to wear a mask at camp?

Last summer, children at day camp didn’t need to wear masks unless they couldn’t socially distance. Overnight campers wore masks when around other cohorts and also when social distancing couldn’t be maintained. It’s too early to tell what mask policies will be but one year later, mask wearing has become more commonplace than it was last summer and children have gotten used to wearing them daily.

What kind of screening process is done to make sure staff and campers are healthy?

Both day and overnight camps required daily health screenings with questions asked about each child’s health and temperatures being taken either at home, at camp or sometimes both.

Are there activities that will be eliminated because of COVID?

Because of the pandemic, some contact sports and activities needed to be eliminated last summer. Many camps also didn’t do field trips or inter-camp games to prevent exposure to many people. It’s too early to tell what activities will need to change for 2021 but if a camp needs to make changes to keep staff and campers safe, there are many other amazing activities to participate in. Many camps that ran in 2020 reported that even with some changes, it was the best summer they ever had because children needed camp so much after months spent at home.

—Jess Michaels is the director of communications for the American Camp Association (ACA), NY and NJ, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the summer camp experience.

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