Preparing for summer camps during a pandemic

Summer camp

Despite COVID-19, one of the biggest providers of summer camps in the GTA says it’s still committed to them this year, but the look will be different and enrolment is unclear. 

The YMCA of Greater Toronto usually has 4,000 day campers and 1,000 staff at its 50 locations every summer. 

But in light of the pandemic, VP of camping and outdoor recreation Brandon McClounie says like everything else, they have to adapt. 
“We’ve been scenario-planning, looking at other provinces and the regulations that have been released and adapting that to inform us,” he said. “So we’re at least at a point when we see those regulations come out, that direction, that we’ve thought through this.” 

McClounie says the best-case scenario is campers will be able to attend in person and they’ll base protocols similar to the daycares that have been set up for emergency workers. 

“Pre-screening to cleaning and disinfecting to hand hygiene being very much at the forefront,” he said. 

Campers would also stay in their specific cohorts with no intermingling with other groups, with physical activities and sports being modified so that social distancing guidelines are adhered to. 

However, they’re also planning for a summer camp season with a major virtual component, similar to the way teachers are trying to organize lessons with students. 

That poses the question of participation. 

On one hand McClounie says there’s a possibility that enrollment could stay the same or even increase because there would be no need to worry about transportation. 

On the other, the concern is that not all children have access to virtual participation. 

“If we move to that virtual model, how do we ensure that everyone has access? That’s a hard question to answer, we’re looking at both, either an increase or a decrease,” he said, adding they also don't know if busing will be allowed.

Adding to the uncertainty is not just what kinds of public health guidelines will be in place, but when. 

“We have a three to four-week window where we would need the proper amount to mobilize,” he said, requiring them to not only recruit staff, but train them in this new age of camping.

It means some camps that were scheduled to start in July could happen in August, for example. 

On Friday, Toronto Mayor John Tory announced city-run day camps and recreational events were being cancelled, with a backup plan called CampTO being developed. 

“CampTO will provide 5,300 camp spaces per week for children ages 6 to 12 representing approximately 50 per cent of the typical City of Toronto camp capacity,” a city release explains. 

The alternative will be dependent on official recommendations made by Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams, who said it would be released soon. 

McClounie points out that the city's decision does not necessarily mean the YMCA and other private ones would follow suit, although public safety will always be the top priority. 

In all, he says families and parents have been extremely understanding of the situation. 

“We’re all in the same storm, just potentially different boats,” he said. “They want to know what’s going on for summer, they also understand we have to get it right.”