Your camper’s health and safety is at the forefront of every decision we make. That priority is why we made the difficult decision not to hold summer camp in 2020. Since then, we’ve learned from quite a few summer camps, including some in our local area, who were able to show that a safe summer camp experience is possible.
In addition to continually refined government and camp association guidelines, we now have the benefit of tried-and-true best practices that we know can work.
We are still in the process of building a plan specific to our program and our community. We will also have to do a bit of watching and waiting to see what levels of restrictions are necessary given the environment and guidelines we receive in the spring. Even so, we do know the general shape of what our specific plan will aim for. We know that we will be using all of the best practices developed this year.
Below, we describe those best practices and how they might look at camp this summer. Remember, we haven’t decided on specific policies for the most part. These practices will be our guide as we work toward a safe and spectacular summer plan.
We start with a basic but vital management practice. We must control who comes and goes at camp and ensure all arrivals follow robust safety measures.
The most important situations to control in our camp setting are opening and closing day. Normally, we’d have a few hundred visitors wandering around base camp. This year, we’ll need to be much more constrained.
When other camps shared how they changed their opening and closing day procedures, we could tell that we would need to design our own plan to fit our unique setting. However, we know that we’ll have to consider significant changes to our existing plan. For example, we might ask that only one parent check their child into the cabin, or we might ask that parents stay in the car altogether. We might have several outdoor check in locations.
We know that in general we will be trying to reduce the number of folks around, keep distance between families, and ensure all are wearing masks.
While the start and end to camp are the most significant, they aren’t the only places we need to control entry to camp. Our staff are another important subject. They usually come and go on their time off, and this summer we may have to ask them not to leave camp. Instead, we might plan to order them special meals for their days off.
Another area to manage is the frequent visitors we would normally host throughout the summer. For example, we often have folks taking tours or counselors’ parents visit for a meal. Similar to our staff time off rules, we’ll need to tightly manage or even eliminate visits from this group.
Finally, we’ll have to reach out to our vendors and supply them with our rules for coming on camp. These rules will involve wearing a mask and social distancing.
Testing is a central best practice around the world in screening and monitoring for COVID-19. As in many industries, the camp setting has a range of approaches to testing. To help us design our own testing plan, we have been studying the approaches taken by camps in our area who were successful last summer.
All of those camps used testing, but there were different plans that worked. One of our main questions this year will be who to test and when.
All camps said they isolated and tested anyone who felt sick. We would follow this protocol, of course. All camps also tested their staff before arriving at camp. It’s very likely that we’ll test our staff as well.
Where camps differed was in the frequency of tests and the requirements for testing campers. Some camps required families to show proof of a recent negative test. One camp did not require a test, only a signed statement that the family had self-isolated for two weeks before coming to camp.
Some camps tested only at the beginning, and others tested campers or staff routinely across the summer.
Testing is also evolving, in terms of the technology and our understanding of how it fits into broader management plans, and we expect it to continue to evolve in the next year. We know that any requirements for our families should be announced as soon as possible, so we will be working hard to have official policies announced early in the spring.
A normal camp setup involves lots of mingling, mixing groups, and socializing in large numbers. We know this will change for next summer.
Instead of mixing everyone together, we’ll be following the best practice of reducing group size, keeping space between groups, and controlling interactions amongst other groups and staff.
One model that we could use is called the cohort model. The idea is to create a small unit of campers and keep them together for hikes, meals, and activities. If you then prevent this cohort from interacting closely with another cohort, those campers don’t have to be socially distant or wear masks within their own cohort. This practice would balance the need for reducing the contacts between people while also giving campers a comfortable home space where they could feel a bit of normalcy.
At GRP, the most extreme version of a cohort model might look like one cabin, say All Tucked Inn (about 14 girls), who hike, eat, and do activities together for the whole session.
There are other models that have been shown to work. Another example is a hierarchical model, which also starts with a small cohort, but then allows larger group interactions as long as those interactions have increasing levels of social distancing and other protections.
Which model we follow, and how tightly we control interactions between groups, will depend on the environment and the guidelines we receive in the spring.
While technically a feature of the group interactions section above, it’s worth mentioning dining procedures on their own. In a normal summer camp year, our dining hall (we call it the Lodge) is jam packed with happy people eating, laughing, and even singing. Meal times are usually the central gathering place for our whole community, with announcements and skits and even medical check-ins taking place each meal.
We know that dining will look different this year.
There are many details to plan. For example, will folks eat at different times? Will we split camp into a few groups and eat in different areas? Whatever the details come out to be, our dining strategy will follow the same strategy as the rest of camp. We’ll be reducing numbers, increasing space between people, cleaning thoroughly, washing hands, and using masks.
We know that campers and staff will be wearing masks a lot. Our hope is to not require masks inside a camper’s cabin. Outside of that space, however, we will likely require all community members to wear a mask if they would come into any sort of close contact with others.
How often any contact happens, however, depends on what group size and interaction model we use. If we do allow some level of interaction between groups, masks will be universal. For example, if we allow folks to take activities with campers who aren’t in their cabin, every camper and staff member would be required to wear a mask during the activity.
A best practice that can be overlooked is training and monitoring the community about the other best practices. As camp directors, we are experts in making rules not only stick, but also fun and friendly. We will be doing skits about hand washing and singing the hand washing song. We will be adding new staff training sessions on health and wellness.
One idea shared from another camp is to use a catchphrase when we want to ask folks to put masks on. That camp gave each person a buff with the camp logo. Each time they wanted to get masks on, they would simply say, “Buffs up!” The camp reported that this phrase was really successful in encouraging mask use, even with young campers.
The cultural part of managing our health this summer is extremely important, and we’ll be devoting lots of effort to making it fun and memorable, as well as effective.
Finally, we’ll be doing the less glorified but still necessary job of relentless scrubbing. We’ll be enforcing hand washing at many points throughout the day, especially before meals. We already make sure folks wash their hands, but we may do something like literally check people off after they wash hands this year.
We’ll also be cleaning surfaces and ventilating rooms between groups. This cleaning will take place on all scales, from sanitizing tables after use to cleaning cabins obsessively between sessions. To facilitate this cleaning, we have shortened our camp sessions by one day this year. That way we can be extra thorough in our cleaning and leave plenty of time between groups.