Coronavirus causes murky CDC guidelines on summer camps

Some camps say they can't open under new state and CDC guidelines

Get all the latest news on coronavirus and more delivered daily to your inbox.  Sign up here.

Working parents are grappling with how to provide child care for their kids this summer as camps decide if they are able to operate under new CDC guidelines. Instead, some are choosing to remain closed for the season altogether.

Erica Jameson, owner and director of Jameson Ranch Camp in Glennville, California, was hopeful that her sleepaway camp, which offers activities like hiking, biking, swimming and fishing, would be able to open this season. But after reviewing CDC guidance advising against big groups of more than 10, capping its number of campers and the uncertainty of when stay-at-home orders would be lifted in her state, she decided to close indefinitely.

Campers walk across a field at Camp Walt Whitman, a sleepaway camp in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The camp will decide later this month whether to close, remain open or postpone its opening date due to the novel coronavirus. (Camp Walt Whit

“We felt that changing our way of doing things beyond what we already planned for would have just completely changed the way kids experienced camp, and we didn’t feel that was fair,” Jameson told FOX Business, explaining she had very few cancellations from parents.


Camps in states where local authorities have allowed them to reopen were advised to first consider limiting operations only to kids whose parents are essential workers, like those in health care positions, according to the CDC’s supplemental Guidance for Child Care Programs' suggestion. The new guidelines also suggest limiting camp attendance to staff and campers who live in the local geographic area.

The CDC suggests camps in states allowing them to remain open implement staggered dropoff times and maintain the same group of campers and counselors each day to limit exposure to others, advising camps to “restrict mixing between groups.” The guidance also recommends canceling field trips and restricting nonessential employees and volunteers along with spacing out seating and bedding at least 6 feet apart at sleepaway camps if possible and to close communal spaces like game rooms and dining halls.


“We felt that changing our way of doing things beyond what we already planned for would have just completely changed the way kids experienced camp and we didn’t feel that was fair,” 

- Erica Jameson, owner of Jameson Ranch Camp

Physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions, particularly in areas where it is difficult for individuals to remain at least 6 feet apart, like at reception desks, are also advised under the new guidelines.

A number of popular day camps in upstate New York, like Adirondack Camp and Point O'Pines Camp for Girls, have also already decided to remain closed for the season. Others are awaiting the green light to open from local authorities. A staffer at Recreation Summer Camp in Summit, New Jersey, said it will open once and if Gov. Phil Murphy says they are able to and that parents, in the meantime, can sign up online. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont on Monday signed another executive order to cancel overnight summer camps, delay summer school and extend a limit on social gatherings.

States have most of the authority to decide to reopen businesses rather than the federal government, according to the federal Guidelines for Opening Up America Again, released by the Trump administration in mid-April.

Jameson said despite fears of the coronavirus spreading, parents have been eager to get their kids out of the house and outside.

“We’ve been getting emails from parents saying, ‘I’m going to send you my children and my husband,'” Jameson said.

She’s taking a big financial loss by staying closed, too -- around $100,000 for the summer.

Summer camp is an $18 billion industry that attracts more than 20,000 children each summer, according to the American Camp Association. It also fills a critical child care need for some parents.

"Parents are really asking, 'can we please have camp for our kids?' They need this, they’ve been surrounded by walls and screens for weeks, and the kids who are most under-resourced need camps more than anyone for their social and mental welfare," said Tom Rosenberg, CEO of the American Camp Association.


Other parts of the country plan to open camps later this summer. In Missouri, St. Louis County is planning to reopen summer camps and pools in June and has been working with the YMCA on guidelines. 

Still, despite some parts of the country gearing up for reopening summer camps, a number of parents still feel uncomfortable about sending their kids. A Slate poll that asked 6,000 what they're most uncomfortable about in the age of COVID-19 found 83 percent of respondents would not feel comfortable sending their child to sleepaway camp and 66 percent said they wouldn't send their little ones to a day camp.