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Camp Concerns

SUNSET FUN In August 2019, former campers enjoy a reunion at Camp Thunderbird for Girls, in Bemidji, Minnesota. MOLLY SPRAYREGEN—AP

About 20 million children in the United States attend summer camp every year, according to the American Camp Association (ACA). They look forward to spending time there with friends.

But with social-distancing rules in effect across the U.S., many summer camps face tough decisions. Can they safely welcome campers this year? Do they need to close for the season? Or should they change how they carry out their programs?

“Most camps are not asking if they’re going to open, but how they’re going to open,” says Tom Rosenberg. He’s the president and CEO of the ACA. Rosenberg says that many camps are waiting on guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Camps are also taking advice from state and local health departments.

Beth Bye is the commissioner of the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood. On May 5, she announced that the state’s summer camps could open on June 29. But strict health guidelines will need to be in place. Most programs will not be allowed to have more than 30 kids.

Bye added that she believes camps are important for both kids and working parents. “For many families,” she told the New York Times, “summer camp is their childcare.”

In other parts of the country, some camps have already decided they must close for the summer. This was disappointing news for many young people. Delia Graham, 15, recently received notice that her camp, near Portland, Oregon, was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I didn’t think it would get so bad, that it would last this long,” she says. “I really miss my friends.”

Other camps have chosen to move their programs online. The Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington, for example, will start online activities for campers in June.

Allie Roberts is a director of programs there. “It’s a heartbreaking decision,” she says. “But it’s the right decision for the safety of our girls.”