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Camps gear up for summer reopening on the North Shore

Some summer camps are already close to capacity

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With summer approaching and New York state protocols for how to operate a summer camp under current Covid-19 conditions pending, area camps tentatively plan to use last year’s protocols in 2021.

The plans generally correspond to recommendations for camps recently released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, advising that they follow the same social-distancing protocols that are now being used in schools.

They include keeping at least three feet between children, and at least six feet when eating and drinking; keeping counselors and other adults at least six feet from children and one another; holding most camp activities outdoors, and if it is necessary to go indoors, there should be proper ventilation, including opening doors and windows when possible.

Area camp administrators are now waiting for these recommendations to filter through New York state and the Nassau County Health Department before implementing changes. 

“We hope to have guidance from New York state, and we’re waiting every day for it,” said Jason Mercado, director of North Shore Day Camp in Glen Cove. “In the meantime, we will abide by what the Nassau County Department of Health gave us last year as a blueprint.” 

“We were open last summer, ran our camp with over 250 people according to the Nassau County rules, and nobody got Covid, nobody passed it,” said Luanne Picinich, owner-operator of Big Chief Day Camp in East Meadow. “We will continue to follow last year’s rules, and hope that when the new guidance comes out, they’ll be a little more lenient this year.”

All camp administrators with whom the Herald spoke had standard procedures in place. Children are tested just before the start of camp, and then have a temperature check in the morning each day. Campers follow protocols for masks and social distancing, and interaction among small groups of students is limited. Parents must fill out a daily screening questionnaire. In case there are any signs of illness during the camp day, children are brought to the “bumps and bruises” area and quarantined. 

The good news is that, according to the American Camping Association, Covid-19 intervention methods adopted nationwide proved to be effective in limiting the incidence of infection among campers and staff last year.

According to Camp Counts, a nationwide study published by the group, in 2020 camps that were open for operating adjusted their protocols to incorporate a number of standard non-pharmaceutical interventions. As a result, out of almost 500 camps, representing 90,000 campers and staff, only 74 camps reported one or more cases, for a total of 30 campers and 72 staff.

“The news is very encouraging based on last year’s results,” said Jason Wass, director of LuHi summer programs in Glen Head. “LuHi did not operate last year, but we recognize the challenges. We have an operational plan, but it is penciled in because things could change. We have a lot of large indoor spaces, and many of our activities are conducted outdoors, so there are adjustments that can be made. Are we going to rally together in the morning, and hold cheers? Probably not this summer. But big performances, like a BMX show, can still come to camp and be held in a big open space.” 

Some camps modified their facilities significantly, and carefully arranged pick-up and drop-off arrangements.

“At Big Chief, parents had to drive children in, no buses,” Picinich said. “The cars lined up in a church parking lot next door, and people were cohorted into the property according to their age. Every car had a color-coded pass so that they dropped this child off at their own group’s spot, 20 feet from the next group. Cohorts were brought to their own home base; there were no rallies where we all got together.”

At lunch, the children sat on one side of a table so no one would face each other. The camp set up a big outdoor tent for arts and crafts and built outdoor sinks and hand sanitizer spaces for regular hand cleaning. 

“If a group did have to go inside, we had air purifiers in every room, and used UV machines to clean at night,” Picinich said. “At the end of the day, all the equipment was sprayed down and sanitized.”

As a private school, Friends Academy in Locust Valley has an early childhood program, from 3 years old, and a day care facility for infants and toddlers. So, administrators there are not unfamiliar with protocols for safely running a facility for children.

“As of now we are opening a full-scale camp program, following guidance related to masks, social distancing, daily health checks and other measures,” said Edward O’Connor, auxiliary coordinator of Friends’ summer programming. “We’ll have no more than 12 students per cohort, which is a little more extreme than what we’re allowed, but we have to be very cautious and create an environment that is safe, but fun.”

“Our family has owned and operated Big Chief for over 60 years,” Picinich said. “And as owners we had only one choice — to step up to the plate and do what’s right for our children.” 

So far, O’Connor said, planning is getting high marks from potential campers’ families. “We’re getting a rather strong response here,” he said. “A lot of families are calling, very nervous, but with our reputation, they know we do an impeccable job. That makes people feel very confident.” 

Other camps are seeing similarly strong public engagement as compared to last year, when industrywide most camps operated at 40 to 50 percent of normal. “It seems there’s a lot more people coming back to camp, and some camps are already getting close to capacity,” Mercado said. “Here at North Shore, we still have some room, but by the time camp starts, we’ll be pretty close to fully operational.”