SANTA FE, NM (AP) – Overnight summer camps will be allowed in all 50 states this season, but COVID-19 rules and a pandemic labor shortage mean far fewer young campers will attend, and those who do will have to observe coronavirus precautions for the second year in a row.
The Southeast is the first region to open camps this month, with other parts of the country to follow in July.
“The camp may look a little different, but the camp will be a lot better in 2021 than in 2020, when that hasn’t happened,” said Matt Norman of Atlanta, who is about to send his 12-year-old. old maid at camp.
While most camps will be open, the reduced capacity necessitated by COVID-19 restrictions and labor shortages will keep numbers well below a normal threshold of around 26 million summer campers said Tom Rosenberg of the American Camp Association.
Across the country, many camps face competition for counselors in a tight job market. Traditional recruiting tactics like college campus job fairs have been canceled.
“It was tough getting people to work,” said Josh Nelson, at Glorieta Adventure Camp, a facility located in the pine-covered foothills outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
A group of Glorieta camp workers began their orientation by rolling up their sleeves and getting vaccinated in an area between the mess hall and the water slides. But many campers are too young to get vaccinated because vaccines have not been approved for children under 12.
This means that this year’s camp experience will still involve many of the same prevention practices that were adopted in the small number of camps that were operating last year. These measures include grouping children into cohorts, requiring masks, emphasizing social distancing – and plenty of handwashing. Some states, like Vermont, offer free virus testing for campers.
At a girls-only camp called Fernwood in Maine, about 200 of 300 monitors and campers will be vaccinated at the start of the six-week period.
“Going in, it’s a much better scenario for us. Because instead of worrying about 300 people, we worry about 100 people, ”said Fernwood manager Fritz Seving.
Norman plans to send his daughter Jane Ellen to Camp Illahee in Brevard, NC, and he’s happy the camp is encouraging vaccinations.
Jane Ellen agreed and said the focus on vaccines is a good idea.
“If most people are vaccinated, more people can go,” she said.
Back in Glorieta, staff arrived in May from Oklahoma, Texas, and a college town in Mexico called Puebla, where an in-person recruiting fair was held. They have been trained in safety protocols including virus protection, zip lining, and life monitoring.
The camp is operating at a third of its capacity – 1,100 places out of 3,000 are occupied – and the staff will be grouped into pods. Children must wear masks, even outdoors, except when eating their meals or in their dormitories.
Over 90% of the staff agreed to be vaccinated, but there was no mandate for the vaccinations.
Even with those limitations, the outlook is much better than last year, when the camp was canceled and 80% of staff were laid off in March, Nelson said. Federal Paycheck Protection Program loans have helped but not alleviated all the financial pain, he said.
Rosenberg said the camp is more important than ever in terms of normality for children who have had to deal with distance learning, canceled events and boredom at home, not to mention health issues.
“The children were traumatized. They suffered real academic losses. We haven’t talked enough about social and emotional learning losses yet, ”he said.
The camp will allow them to “train themselves to engage among peers” and will offer a chance “to try new activities, to take positive risks and to be in nature, and to find a part of humanity. which they lost in the last year “.
Last year, around 19.5 million children missed camp, but most of the open night camps operated successfully. There have been a few notable outbreaks. More than 250 people have been infected in a camp in Georgia and more than 80 infected in a camp in Missouri.
Sharp reported from Portland, Maine. Associated Press Writer Patrick Whittle in Portland also contributed to this report. Attanasio is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues. Follow him on Twitter.