On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott allowed day cares to open immediately and summer camps and youth programs to begin operating the week of May 31.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Camp Association also released their guidelines for summer camps to follow when deciding whether to open this summer. The governor’s guidelines follow many of the same recommendations, but are more specific in some cases.
Many local camps already had pivoted to virtual-only experiences. Others were delaying opening dates or were planning a hybrid design of some virtual experiences and some in-person experiences. Others were waiting for the guidelines before deciding how to move forward.
The YMCA of Austin, which merged with Extend-a-Care for Kids in January, was set to provide many summer day camps in schools and YMCA facilities throughout Central Texas.
It will open its camps this summer, though staff is still deciding which day camps will open, said Joan Altobelli, who is the vice president of licensed child care services.
The YMCA already has been running day care programs for essential workers at three locations and serving 40 kids that way. Families that need care before camps open can enroll in one of those day care locations by emailing email@example.com.
The governor’s guidelines follow many of the same rules that the essential worker day cares have been following, but are a little bit looser. They still will keep kids in one group and in the same room all day, but now they can have 10 kids for every one adult and have a staff person who floats between rooms on a schedule, Altobelli said. A large room can house two groups of kids now as long as they each stay in their same area.
Camps will look different than in past years because the YMCA won’t be doing big group activities or taking field trips. Groups also will be smaller and accommodate fewer kids. The YMCA of Austin already surveyed the families signed up to see if they were still interested in camp and will take kids on a first-come, first-served basis.
"What we think is the safest is what we’re doing with the COVID camps," Altobelli said. Even though their camps could open sooner, she said, they don’t want to rush it. Instead they want to make sure they have all the staff properly trained and all the supplies they will need.
The opening up of summer camps and day cares, she said, "is very exciting news for working people."
Steve Baskin, the director of Camp Champions in Marble Falls, plans to open his camp June 7, which is a week behind some other area overnight camps he’s talked to.
He said the governor’s guidelines coming out on the same day as the CDC and the ACA guidelines, "is going to make Texas look like leaders."
Many of the guidelines were what he anticipated. He has a very large playbook, and will consult the Burnett County Health Authority to work through all scenarios, including when to wear masks and when not to wear masks.
"It's not going to be easy to run camp this way, but if you can do it, I feel a moral compulsion to make it available," he said.
Parents will ultimately decide if they want to send their kids to camp, he said. "If they dream it is a benefit to their child to be tech-free and happy and stress-free and happy, to rediscover the joys of childhood, and the risks don’t outweigh the benefits, we'll be there for them."
The governor’s guidelines for camps include:
• Training staff on proper cleaning, hand hygiene and coughing etiquette.
• Screening staff and campers for symptoms and contact with someone who has had COVID-19. Monitor and screen campers daily for symptoms.
• Keep campers in separated groups that remain the same throughout camp.
• Stagger pick up and drop off times to allow for social distancing.
• Limit staff with underlying conditions.
• Have staff at overnight camps arrive seven to 10 days before opening session.
• Notify campers and family when a child has tested positive. Require families to pick up a camper who tests positive within eight hours. Require staff who test positive to leave camp. There is a three-step process for a staff member to be able to return at a later date.
• Notify all campers and families who were around a person who tested positive. Isolate those campers from the rest of the camp.
• Notify overnight campers and family that their child needs to avoid contact with anyone 65 or older within 14 days of camp.
• If three or more campers test positive, the camp should work with state and local health authorities on whether they need to shut down camp for that session.
• Not allow any visitors to camp, unless necessary, such as a delivery person.
• Not allow staff to leave overnight camp except for essential services, but provide them a safe break area.
• Hold packages for 24 hours before delivering them.
• No self-service buffets.
• Use disposable cups, plates, napkins and utensils.
• Clean and disinfect chairs and tables between use.
• Enact hand washing and sanitizing protocols.
• Sanitize common area, including cabins and program areas.
• Deep clean the camp between sessions.
• Overnight campers sleep head to toe in upper and lower bunks, and beds should spaced as far apart as possible.
• Provide air circulation from fans and open windows in cabins.
• Identify isolation spots for campers who are sick.
• Have guidelines for how to care for and isolate a sick camper or staff person.
• Space campers one person per seat in vans and buses and sanitize those vehicles before and after trips, but day trips are discouraged.
• For day camps, the guidelines also include wearing face coverings for staff members.
The CDC guidelines offer a simple decision tree that starts with three questions:
Will reopening be consistent with applicable state and local orders?
Are you ready to protect children and employees at higher risk for severe illness?
Are you able to screen children and employees upon arrive for symptoms and history of exposure?
If the answer is no to any of these, the CDC says camps should not open this summer.
The CDC’s recommendations are similar to the governor’s but also include:
• Monitor absences of children and employees.
• Have a pool of trained substitutes for when employees are absent.
The American Camp Association’s draft guidelines also include steps on how to communicate to parents and campers before, during and after camp.
It also recommends camps:
• Identify campers that are higher at risk for complications and encourage additional precautions, such as having the camper’s family consult their medical professional for guidelines and approval to attend. Do the same for staff.
• Communicate the importance of keeping campers at home who are showing symptoms.
• Post signage about COVID-19 information, coughing etiquette, hand washing, symptoms, how to stop the spread of germs and how to physically distance.
• Have policies on how and when kids will wash and sanitize their hands, which symptoms to watch and whom they will report those to, when to stay home, how to encourage safe coughing, other guidelines that will be unique to that camp’s facilities and activities.
• Reduce the frequency of deliveries and request the same driver. Require vendors to wear face masks and gloves and maintain social distance and not make deliveries if they have symptoms.
The American Camp Association also focuses on how staff should talk to kids about the virus to inform them but not scare them.