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YMCA, American Camp Association Release Guide For Opening Summer Camps


And I'm Ailsa Chang. In a typical summer, more than 14 million children and staff members head to camp. But, of course, this summer is anything but typical, and today the country's largest summer camp associations jointly released a field guide to operating while reducing the spread of the coronavirus. Anya Kamenetz from our ed team has been reporting on what summer might look like this year, and she joins us now.

Hey, Anya.


CHANG: So I know the question on a lot of parents' minds this year is, is camp actually going to happen this year? My guess is most are canceled.

KAMENETZ: I would say many are canceled, especially overnight camps. And, of course, it depends on case numbers continuing to decline. But I have seen reports of camps planning to open, really, across the country - in Arizona, Connecticut, Colorado, Montana, Texas. And even here in New York City, which has been the epicenter of the pandemic, the YMCA day camps are currently taking registrations.

CHANG: Wow. That seems kind of surprising to me.

KAMENETZ: You know, I think it's a testament to the need, first of all, for child care on the part of working parents.

CHANG: Sure.

KAMENETZ: ...As well as a break for children, right? So I reported recently that the pandemic stay-at-home orders have really had a negative impact on some children's mental health. And I talked to Tom Rosenberg, the CEO of the American Camp Association, which, along with the Y, put out these guidelines. And he says this hits home in his household with his son, who's 12. Here's Tom.

TOM ROSENBERG: My son is on his computer probably 10 1/2 hours a day.


KAMENETZ: Yeah, and that's pretty typical, you know? And he says even though his son's relatively privileged...

ROSENBERG: Every child in our country needs these kinds of experiences this summer more than any summer, more than ever.

CHANG: I mean, that's so true. So now there's this new guidance for camps. What does this field guide say?

KAMENETZ: So these two groups told me they really saw the need to expand on what was a very limited flowchart that was finally officially released by the CDC last week. And so in this 82-page guide, they say, you know, first of all, your state has to be in what the Trump administration calls phase 2 or phase 3 of reopening, which means a sustained decline, essentially, in cases, plenty of room in hospitals. And so if that's OK, then the guide emphasizes, you know, that you screen both staff and campers both before camp starts and during camp, that you're screening by taking temperatures and having self-reporting of common symptoms like sore throats. There's a lot of information in here about cleaning and disinfection routines. And then they're very - interestingly, they put in this concept of cohorts.

CHANG: Cohorts? What does that mean in this context?

KAMENETZ: So the idea here is you would keep groups of campers and staff together as small a group as possible. Some state guidelines say, you know, no more than 10 campers in a group, and that is your cohort. And you would make sure that this group is consistent and the groups are separated from each other for all the activities, including meals. And this is to limit the number of contacts across a camp and make it easy, in case there's some exposure or some positive test - easier to trace and isolate people.

CHANG: What about any recommendations on specific activities at these camps?

KAMENETZ: So first of all, staying outdoors as much as possible seems to be indicated, and that's something we've heard from other public health guidelines - that there's less transmission outdoors. Secondly, they talk about swimming, which is a huge classic when it comes to summer camp. The guidance is, you know, this virus is not waterborne, so it shouldn't be a problem as long as you don't mix groups of children.

CHANG: And do these best practices seem feasible?

KAMENETZ: You know, I think that there are some encouraging signs. For example, YMCA has been operating a central child care at 1,100 sites, and they have not had a transmission yet.

CHANG: All right. That's NPR's Anya Kamenetz.

Thanks, Anya.

KAMENETZ: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.