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Return to summer activities COVID-19 camp Children's Wisconsin

Careful considerations about summer camp and COVID-19

At Children’s Wisconsin, our vision is that the kids of Wisconsin will be the healthiest in the nation. As pediatricians, we know the enormous benefit that summer enrichment activities can have on a child’s development, fitness, and overall physical and emotional health. 

However, as our communities begin to consider a return to these activities, we must do so with safety as the number one priority — not only the safety of our children, but also of our parents and families. More important than when we return is how we return, particularly in a manner that doesn’t negatively impact our community’s public health. Overall, the risk of transmission of COVID-19 cannot be eliminated, but steps should be taken to minimize that risk as much as possible. 

As of May 20, 2020, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) recommends canceling or postponing all group activities for children this summer including day camps, residential camps, educational programs, and other enrichment activities. This recommendation does not apply to child care for the children of essential workers. 

Children’s Wisconsin supports following guidance from DHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to safely protect kids and our community from the spread and unknown risks of COVID-19. There remains much we do not know about COVID-19 and are beginning to see new manifestations of how the virus presents in kids. We strongly urge families to avoid large group gatherings and activities that involve kids being in close proximity or in contact with others outside the family. We know that local public health regulations vary, leaving parents with questions and concerns about how to make decisions to keep their children and families safe. There are a number of factors families can consider to help assess risks. Listed below are general guidelines that summer activities should be following to reduce the risk to your child, your family and community.

General guidelines

We acknowledge that each activity carries different risks based on the nature of the activity as well as the capabilities of that facility and its staff. The following are general guidelines for families to consider when making decisions about participation in all activities. 

Point of contact: Programs should have a communication plan in place for information sharing and accepting questions regarding COVID-19. This may be a member of the administration, email address, social media page, etc. 

Precautions in place: Organizations should inform families of the precautions they are taking to minimize the risk of COVID-19. It should not be “business as usual” (see next section for specifics).

Children at higher risk: If you feel your child is at a higher risk for complications from COVID-19 or has a chronic health condition, please discuss your concerns with your primary care doctor or appropriate specialist prior to attending any summer programs or activities.

  • If your child has asthma, ensure that a non-expired rescue inhaler and spacer is available at the program’s site.

  • Discuss your child’s health issue with program directors prior to attending. Make sure staff members are properly trained to assist with inhaler use if needed, and ensure they are trained in how to recognize severe asthma symptoms.

Partnership with health department: Program administrators should have an open line of communication with local health departments to help coordinate any concerns regarding a local outbreak.

Specific areas to address 

Cleaning: Programs should have sufficient supplies for frequent cleaning of common areas and equipment. Programs should avoid the use of shared toys.

Personal health and hygiene: Face coverings should be worn by children over the age of 2 and staff when social distancing is not possible, especially when indoors. There should be an adequate supply of hand soap and sanitizer. Young children often need to be reminded to wash their hands, so planned hand washing is recommended and an opportunity to teach children good hand washing hygiene. 

Screening: A daily screening process should be in place that includes taking temperature and self-disclosure of conditions to identify children or staff who may be ill, as well as a plan on how to respond to any positive screens. 

Cohorts: It is recommended that children and staff stay within the same group. Activities, equipment, and seating areas should be kept within the same group. In child care settings, children should not interact with those outside their age group or classroom.

Limit outside contact: Restriction of outside visitors should be enforced. Vendors coming into the facility should wear a face mask at all times. Travel outside of the facility, including field trips, should be restricted

Staggering: Specific activities, drop-off times, pick-up times, and use of specific facilities should be staggered as much as possible to encourage social distancing.

Outbreak plan: Programs should have a plan in place in case of a positive COVID-19 infection or outbreak. This should involve direct communication with parents and coordination with local health officials.

Food service: Use of bubblers or water fountains should be restricted and each child should bring or be provided with their own water bottle. Consider programs that have each child bring their own food. For facilities that serve food, there should not be use of buffets, self-serve or family-style meals. Staff should serve the food to each individual child, provide box lunches, or have children bring food from home. 

Unique considerations for overnight (residential) camps

  • A self-screening or coordinated screening process should be established leading up to the start of camp, preferably within 14 days of the start date, to help ensure no active cases enter campgrounds.

  • Stagger shower use and nighttime/morning bathroom use for brushing teeth, washing up, etc.

  • Stagger meal times between groups as described above.

  • Assign specific sports equipment, dining tables, arts and crafts supplies, etc. to separate groups. Staff should clean equipment regularly and kids should wash hands before and after use.

  • Minimize exposure to people from outside of camp during outdoor overnight camping trips, or limit trips outside of camp altogether.

  • Planned weekly laundry service for bedding and towels.

  • Sleeping arrangements should minimize transmission by having children sleep head-to-toe rather than head-to-head whenever beds are within 6 feet of each other.

  • Living areas should be cleaned daily.

  • Camps should have open communication available with local health departments as recommendations regarding COVID-19 can vary between counties in Wisconsin.

  • Camps should have a plan in case children or staff develop symptoms. Questions to consider include:

    • Can campers/staff be isolated if needed?

    • Are there available health facilities nearby that can offer testing and treatment if needed?

    • If camp has to be canceled due to an outbreak, is there a way to quickly get children home?

Recommendations and guidance can change frequently as the pandemic continues. We strongly recommend checking the latest recommendations from DHS and the CDC when making decisions about the safety of summer programs for children and their families.

Sharyl Paley, MDBayshore Pediatrics 

Steven Jereb, MD, Oak Creek Pediatrics