Ontario camps using various strategies to prevent spread of COVID-19

For many Canadian children, summer camp is an annual ritual, as well as a much-appreciated break for parents.

“Last year when they announced there was going to be no camp, she cried almost every day the whole summer," mother Lauren Shulman said of her daughter.

Her two children - Addison, age 13, and Harrison, age 9, were delighted to be able to attend Camp Walden this year. They were eager to observe all recommended protocols, even before arriving at camp.

Two weeks before camp opened on July 2, the family was asked to isolate themselves as much as possible. They did PCR tests for COVID-19 just before coming up to the camp. And upon arrival, they were tested once again.

While Addison has had her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, Harrison is too young to get vaccinated.

“To be honest, I didn’t have any worries” says Shulman when asked whether she was concerned about her children getting together with other children. She pointed to the mild illnesses that the vast majority of children who got COVID-19 experienced and she believes the mental health benefits of overnight camp outweigh the risks.

Chief of Pediatrics at Lakeridge Health, Dr. Joan Abohweyere, agrees and said that camp provides the vital social interactions that children need to practice as they grow.

But she also says all children age 12-17 should be aiming to get their vaccinations now, especially while there is plenty of supply.

She says that will help not only at camp, but also for the start of in-person classes in the fall.

At the same time, Abohweyere says vaccines are not a silver bullet. Proper mask use, hand hygiene and maintaining consistent groupings for campers are also important strategies.

“At camp, kids are of different ages and they do different activities, so cohorting children is another way of limiting the spread (of illness)," Abohweyere said.

Shulman says her son actually keeps his mask on outside, despite being allowed to remove it for outdoor activities.

The Ontario Camps Association (OCA), which has about 400 members including day and overnight camps, has been working since last fall to established good safety protocols.

Chair Jack Goodman says camps began opening just after July 1.

Campers and staff were asked to provide proof of negative COVID-19 test results before coming to camp, and we’re tested again on arrival.

“We sort of encircled our bubbles," Goodman said. “We prevented non-essential visitors from coming in. Staff are staying in camp on their days off.”

No overnight camps with the OCA has had any COVID-19 cases so far. Two cases have been reported at a day camp that is not part of the OCA.

And if a suspected case of COVID-19 should arise, most camps have created double infirmaries - one for regular scrapes and bruises, and one for potential COVID-19 cases.