Summer Camp and COVID-19: What Parents Should Know

Experts say parents should check on camp safety protocols before sending children. MCKINSEY JORDAN/Stocksy

Experts say summer camps can be safe for children, but there are several things parents should consider.Among them are safety pr…

Experts say parents should check on camp safety protocols before sending children. MCKINSEY JORDAN/Stocksy
  • Experts say summer camps can be safe for children, but there are several things parents should consider.
  • Among them are safety protocols such as physical distancing, wearing masks, and camps' disinfecting practices.
  • They also urge parents not to send children to camp if they show any symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever, cough, or headache.

Before sending children to summer camp this year, parents should ask themselves a few questions.

Experts say parents should learn about their child’s individual risk factors for COVID-19 and how children's involvement in a summer camp program impacts the safety of other family members.

“Ultimately, parents will need to be cognizant of their children’s and other family members’ own risk factors and vaccination statuses in order to make these decisions,” said Dr. Sarah Schaffer DeRoo, a pediatrician at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C.

It would help if you also considered what risk factors might make sending your child to camp more challenging, including underlying health conditions or having a family member with compromised immunity. 

Is summer camp safe?

You’ll need to put camp into perspective.

For example, if you’re wondering whether summer camp is safe, you'll need to compare it with what your child has been doing during the school year.

In other words, ask yourself if summer camp is “safer than what?”

“If you are comparing it to being in school, then outdoor camps are certainly less worrisome from a COVID-19 perspective than sharing a classroom space with 20-30 other kids,” said Dr. Jen Brull, a practicing family physician in Kansas and a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians Board of Directors.

“If you are comparing it to being home in a single-family dwelling, then camp would be considered more risky because it will expose kids to people outside their family,” she told Healthline.

The ideal scenario 

Experts say don’t hesitate to ask camp officials questions about their COVID-19 safety protocols. 

“Importantly, all camp counselors and staff should be masked and vaccinated (if eligible) to provide further protection to children,” Schaffer DeRoo told Healthline.

Brull adds summer camps should be focusing on:

  • physical distancing
  • rigorous disinfection protocols
  • masking in all appropriate settings

But what about your role?

“Families should make sure kids have enough masks to get through the day with clean/dry masks and wash them after each use, and kids should wash hands frequently, including after returning home for the day,” Brull said. 

“There is relatively limited evidence of fomite spread (spread of the coronavirus from touching contaminated objects), so parents should be vigilant about washing linens and good hygiene as usual to prevent all disease,” added Schaffer DeRoo. 

Do your part for the community

Things can change quite quickly when it comes to COVID-19. 

Schaffer DeRoo says the most important safety measures are:

  • masking
  • handwashing
  • physical distancing
  • vaccination (when available) 

If COVID-19 case rates are high in the area, more frequent disinfection and washing of belongings that go with the child to camp would certainly be appropriate, Brull says.

You should also be checking your child and teen’s eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines.

“Seeking vaccination for any child eligible will significantly decrease risk of transmission, so get your 16- and 17-year-olds immunized now and place younger children on waitlists for immunization as soon as the vaccines are authorized for younger ages,” said Brull.

What not to do 

Despite our best efforts, children do get sick. 

When they have signs of illness, such as a stuffy nose or a cough, it's up to parents to decide when it’s safe to send them to camp.

Now more than ever, err on the side of caution.

“The most important thing to be vigilant around is not sending your child to camp if they have any signs of illness,” said Brull.

This means talking with your child about how they are feeling and monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms.

Though fever and cough are the most common symptoms in children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), don't rule out other signs of illness: 

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C)
  • Sore throat
  • New uncontrolled cough that causes difficulty breathing (for a child with chronic allergic/asthmatic cough, determine if there's a change from their usual cough)
  • Diarrhea, vomiting, or stomachache
  • New onset of severe headache, especially with a fever

Any sign of sickness is a reason to keep a child or teen home from summer camp.